Further Up & In – Ptolemy and Lewis’ Imagination

medieval-christian-cosmoloy

I wrote this in Nov. of 2006; so, ten years later, thought I’d post it again. 🙂

My students have just gotten through Dante’s Inferno and Paradiso (we did not purposefully leave out the Purgatorio, but I should not take space here on just what happened). While preparing for class, I read Lewis’ Studies in Renaissance and Medieval Literature. I was familiar with the Ptolemaic view of the universe, but Lewis “filled in the corners” for me in several places.

He describes the medieval person as looking up and into the universe above, as over against the modern way of looking, which is out and away into the vast reaches of matter. The medieval looked up, because Earth was at the bottom of the planetary hierarchy. He looked “into” the universe because the root of Earthly being is found ultimately in the Empyrean, even in God Himself, who dwells above us, beyond the outermost sphere of this universe.

Beside the “up” and “in” way of looking, the medieval person also considered the spiritual world of the Empyrean to be like our world, only inside out. The farther away from Earth you get, the richer and broader is our experience of Reality.

I was reflecting on this view of the universe when the words “up” and “in” hit me like a brick. Combined with the “inside out” description of the Empyrean, I immediately recognised the source of the Narnian expression, “further up and further in,” and just what that going further up and in was like as we read of it in The Last Battle.

Now let me throw this in: I have decided that I like the Ptolemaic view of the universe quite a bit. To the modern mind, nothing is worth considering unless it is based on observation and rational analysis in the materialistic, “scientific” mode of our day. But it all depends on the question you are wanting to ask. The modern man only wants to ask, “What is there materially?” The Christian should go beyond that question and ask, “What is there in the whole of its nature?” We are, of course, interested in the truth of what is materially present in any object, because God has made it so. But the Christian recognises that nothing detectable by our senses should be divorced from whatever may be its connection to the Mind behind its existence.

The universe is Created. There is more than the material about everything because the context of all includes more than the material; it includes the Personal, in varying ways and degrees. The Ptolemaic view includes the personal elements that Christians believe to be present. The Copernican view is more true regarding the material existence of the universe, but the Ptolemaic is more true regarding its immaterial existence. As Lewis points out, all theories of the nature of the universe are models. The Copernican view has always been another model, and it has regularly been updated.

I find it most interesting that the Intelligent Design model is, in a sense, a move back toward the truth in the Ptolemaic model. I’m all for it. Let Love for God spring into the dance of the spheres again!

Image credit: http://www.luminarium.org/encyclopedia/medievalcosmology.htm

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  • Ty Pescador

    This is very helpful. Thank you!

  • David Beckmann

    That’s great, Ty! If you want to learn more about the Medieval mind and how it illumines Lewis’ writing, check out The Narnia Code, by Michael Ward. If you’ve not read it, you’ll love it. Cheers!