An Introduction to Hesperides: Transcript
I’m going to spend a few minutes introducing Hesperides, a new membership service for Christians—and anyone interested in Christian thinking.
Each month we will be sending a classic of Christian literature to our subscribers. At the same time, we will release an audio guide—or introduction to the work—led by one of the world’s best teachers. Members will receive transcripts, notes and links to further resources, as well as access to an exclusive online discussion portal.
Anyone involved in creating new products or businesses will know that the modern advice is always to start with a problem—before attempting to come up with a solution.
According to Immanuel Kant, the four fundamental intellectual problems are: What is human nature? What can I know? What ought I to do? And what may I hope for?
These questions—and the questions they give rise to—have always been asked by thinkers in the Christian tradition, and they are questions we find ourselves grappling with today. What is more, we cannot help but answer them, at least in the ways we live our lives.
Each of us is called to give them serious attention. In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus is asked for the greatest commandment. He answers that it is to ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’
Our problem is the perpetual problem of being a Christian. These questions are not important in an arid and academic sense; but because of the dynamic way our consideration of them shapes our whole being, how we relate to the world and to other people.
One story from history is that wisdom must be discovered afresh in each generation. Our surest guide is the genius of the past, the inspirational men and women who recorded their thoughts.
So many people we have spoken to want to engage with the great works of the Christian tradition more than they do currently. Most of us fail to live up to our high ideals in this respect for a variety of reasons: from not knowing where to start, to lacking structure and community; from the difficulty inherent in the task, to our own sheer indolence…
The Hesperides solution is not a complicated one, but it has proven its merit over many hundreds of years. We place our trust in books, carefully selected and short enough to be read, by even the most thoroughgoing reader, within a month. Yet we know—and those of us who have been fortunate enough to sit at the feet of a great teacher can remember—that we get the most from a text when we are accompanied by an expert guide. Such a teacher can make even the most forbidding work approachable. Through their help, we sometimes see a work that we had considered merely good become extraordinary.
The books and the audio are mutually reinforcing. For all that we might love podcasts, without seriously engaging a subject outside of listening to an episode in the car or while doing the washing up, most of us can, within a few months, recall depressingly little of what we heard.
And that’s why we maximise engagement by providing full transcripts, notes, links to other resources and further reading—as well as the book that was the podcast’s focus.
We think best, though, when we are not alone and when we are required to set down our thoughts. The online forum, cocooned away from the wider internet, is the perfect arena in which to do just this among likeminded—and not so likeminded—fellow members.
We are eager for those who are not Christians to feel able to join. The authors we are looking at are not only great Christian writers and thinkers; they are also, simply, great writers and thinkers. There has been more acknowledgement recently of the deep and sophisticated religious underpinnings of our culture. You need only look at the interest in religion shown by several prominent, ostensibly non-religious, media personalities; or at the wild success of Tom Holland’s book, Dominion. Hesperides is a useful way for non-Christians to better understand themselves and society by getting to grips with a central, and yet often overlooked pillar of their moral and intellectual heritage.
For Christians, Hesperides offers more besides. It can help all Christians in the journey that is their faith. We will be publishing work from different eras, different genres and different parts of the Christian tradition. We have tried to juxtapose them interestingly and to make sure they are thought-provoking and accessible—with the help of our guides—to non-specialist readers. But it is the quality of the writing and thinking that has been our overriding concern. The best way for you to get a sense of the flavour is if I tease our first few offerings:
First, we will be featuring The Cloud of Unknowing, a spare and beautiful instruction in the life of contemplation and on the nature of our understanding, by an anonymous 14th century author.
Next will be G.K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy, a lively, hopeful and intelligent defence of the Christian worldview.
Then there will be Part I of John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, a classic of Puritan Fiction. Recently well-known enough for Elizabeth II to quote from, assuming a familiarity on the part of those watching the first television broadcast of her Christmas message. It has since become an unfairly neglected classic.
Afterward, we will be turning to work by a Church Father, before looking at some devotional poetry.
What will be clear that no individual is likely to be in full agreement with every part of what they read. We believe that through such disagreements one finds one’s own position shifting, altering and improving; or, indeed, sharpening and deepening. Which is to say that disagreement, too, is important.
At the same time, we don’t want to overstate the differences between our authors. C.S. Lewis expresses well the deep, essential unity:
In the days when I still hated Christianity, I learned to recognise, like some all too familiar smell, that almost unvarying something which met me, now in Puritan Bunyan, now in Anglican Hooker, now in Thomist Dante.
It was, of course, varied; and yet – after all – so unmistakably the same; recognisable, not to be evaded, the odour which is death to us until we allow it to become life.
This is an important part of what he meant by ‘Mere Christianity’.
What we promise—and can in all modesty because we are only leaning on the greatness of others—is that your effort to engage any of these works will be repaid many times over. And in the course of a year, everyone will find perhaps two or three of the writers particularly resonant. Looking back, you will find that you have been wonderfully changed.
We will be launching in May. To begin with, membership will only be available to those who live within the United Kingdom. We hope to change this shortly, and if you live in the rest of the world, please enjoy the podcasts, which will be freely available, and sign up to the waiting list.
In the beginning, we will inevitably find that there are things we could improve on. We will be carefully considering the feedback from users so that we can make the platform as good as it can possibly be. There are big plans already in place for the future. We will be adding longer form courses and features on scripture, prayer and historic sermons.
Help us bring that about faster. If you like the sound of what we do, please support us by joining and sharing news of Hesperides with anyone you think would be interested.
We hope to see you soon.