The Philosophical and Theological Significance of Tragic and Comic Writing in the Western Tradition

Hardback. 370pp. $37.95

The question of how seriously to take literature has vexed philosophers throughout the centuries. Are the stories we write merely noble lies told to hold society together? A means of comic detachment from a tragic world? Mimicry of transcendent truths? Potent acts of self-realization? From the Socratics to the Romantics, all of these opinions and more have been offered. In a pop-culture age in which we live out of the stories we tell, our culture needs a clear answer.

In this masterful overview of the Western literary tradition, Patrick Downey traces how seriously philosophers and writers across the centuries, from Plato to Kierkegaard, have taken humanity’s attempts at self-authorship in tragedy and comedy. These attempts, Downey argues, only find resolution in history’s most significant work of literature: the Bible. Setting all other literature in its right place, the Bible and the gospel it proclaims take us beyond literature to the true story of reality, providing what the philosophers and poets have sought for all along: a serious comedy.

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The Author

Dr. Patrick Downey is a professor in the Philosophy Department at St. Mary’s College of California. He is a graduate of Pitzer College B.A.; Harvard University, M.T.S; and Boston College, Phd. He is the author of two books: Serious Comedy: The Philosophical and Theological Significance of Tragic and Comic Writing in the Western Tradition, and Desperately Wicked: Philosophy, Christianity and the Human Heart. He lives in Danville, California with his wife and four daughters.


"Patrick Downey has added a seminal chapter to the ongoing dialogue between Athens and Jerusalem that is as bold and original as it is humble and traditional. By positioning himself within a host of pre-Christian (Plato and Aristotle), Christian (Dante and Girard), and post-Christian (Hegel and Nietzsche) poets and philosophers who both complement and compete with one another, Downey traces a line from pagan tragedy to Christian comedy that all Christians living in the modern world need to wrestle with. His overall thesis left me intrigued, chastened, and grateful."

- Dr. Louis Markos

Professor in English and Scholar in Residence, Houston Baptist University; author of "From Plato to
Christ: How Platonic Thought Shaped the Christian Faith" and "From Achilles to Christ: Why Christians
Should Read the Pagan Classics"

"What is the greatest story ever told? It must, argues Patrick Downey, be the greatest ever written, as its author can only be God Himself. In such a supremely life-giving tale there is no escape from our own lived part—bracing news for poets and philosophers, perhaps, but good news, the best news, for us human beings. In a digital age when the totality of information threatens to blind us to the Gospel, Downey’s call to remember how to read who we are resounds even as it returns us more quietly to yet deeper affirmations: of the stillness and the silence beyond all writing, reading, and laughter, within which our invisible ears might begin truly to hear the Word of God."

- James Poulos

Executive Editor of The American Mind; author of "Human Forever: The
Digital Politics of Spiritual War"


The Davenant Institute seeks to retrieve the riches of classical Protestantism in order to renew and build up the contemporary church. We build networks of friendship and collaboration among evangelical scholars committed to Protestant resourcement, publish resources old and new to equip the evangelical churches, and offering training and discipleship for Christians thirsting after wisdom.
Below are some of the works we've published towards that end.