Interviewer: You’re interviewing yourself? Some of your opponents might say that’s a bit odd and egotistical. I’d like to give you a chance to respond to what your opponents are saying.
C.S. Hayward: Um, well, yes, I have plenty of ego, and this is a bit unusual, and some people who know me might find it a surprise, if perhaps a believable surprise. But may I comment?
Interviewer: Certainly. What do you have to say for yourself?
C.S. Hayward: As far as denying that I am proud, I’m not interested in defending myself. If I am to be defended, and I am not innocent, my defense would best be spoken by others’ lips. But as for a reason, I do have a particular practical reason for such an odd process.
Interviewer: What’s that?
C.S. Hayward: Awesome Gang offers a free interview for an author to promote his book, and I can only call that a work of mastery for all kinds of authors offering all kinds of books. But there is a weakness in such a master-stroke: the cookie cutter allows discussion of the Scandal of the Particular, but I wished something almost entirely driven by suchlike scandal. I want questions that allow me to speak, and at times much more particular questions, even if (for instance) my website’s author biography is very unusual for a personal biography:
Who is Christos Jonathan Seth Hayward? A man, made in the image of God and summoned to ascend to the heights of the likeness of God. A great sinner, and in fact, the chief of sinners. One who is, moment by moment, in each ascetical decision choosing to become one notch more a creature of Heaven, or one notch more a creature of Hell, until his life is spent and his eternal choice between Heaven and Hell is eternally sealed.
Man, mediator, midpoint, microcosm, measure: as man he is the recapitulation of the entire spiritual and visible creation, having physical life in common with plants and animals, and noetic life in common with rank upon rank of angel host, and forever in the shadow of that moment when Heaven kissed earth and God and the Son of God became Man and the Son of Man that men and the sons of men might become gods and the sons of God.
He’s also a writer with a few hobbies, but really, there are more important things in life.
Interviewer: What would you respond to people who say that’s not really the scandal of particular!
C.S. Hayward: It draws attention to something overlooked in a standard statement of what makes your uniqueness, as marketers would have it. I claim for myself the glory and the shame of being human. And I stand indebted to one monk who had managed some prestigious obediences, but as far as the story of his coming to Orthodoxy, wrote, “The story of _________’s coming to Orthodoxy was told to the priest who received him, under the seal of confession, and he received absolution for his sins.” And I can’t really do better than that. Or rather, I have only said anything much better and much more specific than that under the seal of absolution. I’ve had an interesting life story, and other aspects are told in my autobiography, Orthodox Theology and Technology (my first impulse was to mention The Luddite’s Guide to Technology, which I consider my work most likely to be significant). But the distinction I seek is in repentance, both in the sense of something all Orthodox are called to, and as a term for monasticism.
Interviewer: “Orthodox Theology and Technology?” Do you consider yourself a theologian?
C.S. Hayward: The story is told of a liberal scholar who went to the Holy Mountain and told a monk that he was a theologian, and the monk suddenly acted very obsequious and began kissing his feet. The academician asked why on earth the monk was acting that way, and the monk explained, “We had St. John the Theologian, and then some centuries later we had St. Gregory the Theologian, and then some centuries after that we had St. Symeon the New Theologian, and now, we have… you!
It is not a respected affirmation that one is the fourth in that series, but if I may speak for the “underdog perspective” (Fr. Seraphim of Platina said it is noble to defend the underdog), the standard Western use of “theologian,” especially without the idea that you bracket any religious beliefs you have and work in theology in an atheistic approach, is a concept that has legitimate use, and in a devout Western setting the claim to be a theologian is not meant or taken as a claim to be the fourth of that august company that directly experience God. For that matter, the Philokalia talks about people engaging in “theology”, meaning the direct experience of God and not the accumulation of the more usual kind knowledge concerning God.
Orthodoxy in recent years, to fill the gap of someone who works to understand God without the claim to be the fourth in that august company, has developed the term “patrologist” to mean someone who devoutly studies what academics trade in, and is the general term for someone who has not specialized in something with a more specific term. And I would claim to be a patrologist lite, perhaps not the best out there even in my interests. It’s kind of a way of answering a Westerner’s question of whether I study what a Westerner would consider theology, but without the implications of a claim to be the fourth Theologian in the Orthodox Church’s history.
I was studying at an Orthodox seminary, but that seemed to get derailed because my need-based financial aid was not registered, and my strong hope is to get to St. Demetrios’s monastery in Virginia whether it takes one trip or several, insofar as I am able to. I’m not sure if you’ve read Everyday Saints and Other Stories, but the words are fragrant with the fragrance of Heaven yet simple such I have rarely, if ever, pulled off myself. In that book, Orthodox seminarians tend to be arrogant and clueless, enough so that a seminarian who should know enough patristics to know that thC.e Orthodox Church claims a wealth of only three Theologians, introduces himself as a theologian and is surprised when he is asked, “You’re the fourth?” And I wonder if having introduced myself as a seminarian I have introduced myself as arrogant and clueless in like terms.
Interviewer: Um, you’re introducing yourself as “C.S. Hayward.”
C.S. Hayward Yes, and may I say a few things about that?
First, I owe C.S. Lewis a greater debt than perhaps any mortal writer. I’ve read 90% of all he has written, including some of The Neglected C.S. Lewis, and he shaped me enough as an author that I’ve been told, “You write like an Englishman.”
And there’s also what Graham Clinton, founder of International Christian Mensa, said.
Interviewer: What’s that?
C.S. Hayward: I asked him, in perhaps inexusable vanity, if I might be the next C.S. Lewis. His first reply could be taken as a very diplomatic “No.” He said, “Sure, you could be, but why would you want to?”
But the next major point he tried to make was really about how the World Wars emphatically “killed off all our talent.” He said simply that all the A-level talent in England got killed off, leaving B’s like C.S. Lewis to be promoted when they would otherwise have had to work for a living (his term). The implication was that I was A-level talent wanting to be compared to B-level talent.
And on Facebook, which isn’t too keen on having people known by initalism, entered my name as Christos Jonathan Seth Hayward, expecting it to be collapsed and yield “CJSH.” Readers found enough kindness and affinity to condense to “CSH” meaning, “C.S. Hayward.” So why not?
Interviewer: So what has life been like? I noticed that you are applying, at 46, to a monastery that’s looking for novices in their 30’s.
C.S. Hayward: Yes; may I say a word about that?
C.S. Hayward: That is not simply an arbitrary or superstitious requirement; they are presumably looking for people who still have a certain flexibility to be able to adjust to monastic ways. And may I speak about that?
C.S. Hayward: The mainstream understanding of learning languages is that languages are best learned as a child, and not as an adult. However, this is a rule of thumb and not an unyielding principle. The usual course of language development is to learn one’s first language, and then redeploy the grey matter that can learn languages once no new languages are being learned. But I’ve continued to learn languages, if not always very well, and at Cambridge I was told I was learning Greek as a child did. And when I took the modern languages aptitude test, as an adult, I scored (mumble) and was told for instance, “I’ve been scoring this test for thirty years and I’ve never seen a score this high.” I have master’s degrees in math and “theology.” Both were interdisciplinary, and both were from a world-class institution: UIUC and Cambridge.
I don’t want to mindread or psychologize what would motivate a monastery to make such a request, since retirees have become successful monks, but the obvious concern is a rational one: the monastery may prefer candidates who are not too set in their ways to adapt to monastic life.
And I have continued to have changing life circumstances: studying and returning to school, ineptly fitting recruiter roles in information technology, and retirement on disability. I was able to survive for two years studying theology at Fordham, and I have continued to make major adjustments every few years ago. So I believe I could age-wise be accommodated to monasticism. I’ve kept alive the ability to adjust to different circumstances as I’ve kept alive, at least badly, the ability to learn languages (and have read the Bible in English, French, Spanish, Latin, Greek, Slavonic, and modern Russian and just dipped into Ukrainian). I have a T-shirt that says, “Я ез США. Говорите медленное пожалуеста” (“I’m from the USA. Please speak slowly.”).
Interviewer: Who made it?
C.S. Hayward: I did, and I’ve been clearly advised not to wear it to a Slavic monastery. I might still use it as a night mask or as an undershirt.
Interviewer: I’ve just taken a look at Profoundly Gifted and Orthodox at Fordham. Eek! What sense did you make of that?
C.S. Hayward: The biggest is that the forces of evil only have a hand on me so far as I disobeyed. The first time they needlessly endangered my life, it was strongly in my conscience to complain to the President of the university. I failed to do so; had I obeyed, I might have had a channel open when things went really wrong. Also, I tried the hardest of my life to befriend the great Fr. John Behr, identified as A____ in the document. My conscience was to give him a wide, wide berth. My faults ratified others’ decisions and failings.
But there is one thing I would like to clarify.
C.S. Hayward: I haven’t ever really been off-track except as… I may have tried plan A to get a Ph.D., and then a plan B, and then a plan C, and so on down the alphabet, but my as my spiritual director told me during one of our first meetings, God is always on plan A, even if we think we’re going down the alphabet. Even if I never succeeded at further entering a doctoral program or getting an academic position, even a community college adjunct professorship at a large College of DuPage.
Interviewer: You think you’re on a Plan A?
C.S. Hayward: Bookmark and read God the Spiritual Father sometime. I am not on my own Plan A, but God is on Plan A. The International Christian Mensa Founder’s unfailing, ever-polite requests for me to wake up, said, “Your job is not to write the books that PhD’s write. Your job is to write the books that PhD’s read.” And I have written books for scholars and nonscholars, gently suggested that Fr. John’s St. Vladimir’s Seminary can stop sucking Fordham’s staff, in more ways than one. (I’ve gone through that discipline myself).) I have also had a whole lot of being in the right place at the right time. My website is enormous, with a print “Complete Works” series that occupies eleven volumes of four to six hundred pages, and that’s a dense four to six hundred pages per book. Not all of it is excellent, but some are pretty good.
Interviewer: Sounds like you’ve shined through some pretty rough stuff.
C.S. Hayward: I have a lot to be grateful for, and not just in relation for my writing. I have a covered dental visit coming up where I’ll end up with a root canal, crown, and partial being paid for. You may say that a root canal is little to be excited about, but really, having dental work covered is something to be grateful for.
Interviewer: And you are grateful.
C.S. Hayward: I am not worthy or capable of thanking God adequately for all the good he continues to show for me. But I give praise, even when I am unworthy to give praise.
And I am glad to be visiting the monastery. I don’t know if they will require multiple visits, or whether they’ll follow a practice on the Holy Mountain and allow me to come as a pilgrim and stay as a novice. But in any case, the abbot’s decision will be part of God’s Plan A, even if I am not allowed to join. All that’s really left to me is due diligence. And I’m working hard on the “due diligence” part, such as having a collection of pants with varying waist sizes so I’ll have pants that fit me as my waist shrinks on a monastic diet. I’m really looking forward to it, I’ve been told the abbot is kind, and even if he makes a decision I don’t want him to make, God will still be on Plan A.
Onwards and Upwards, as we said at Avery Coonley School!