Further Up & In – Ptolemy and Lewis’ Imagination


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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Lewis “festoons” the Lord’s Prayer


The Plain of Gennesaret from the Mount of Beatitudes, Galilee. Image credit: http://www.chrisinukraine.com/news/

In Letters to Malcolm, numbers 3 and 4, Lewis tells us how he would add his own personal thought-associations to the phrases in the Lord’s Prayer.  These were things he wanted to remember as he used the prayer privately.  I’ve gathered them together below, wording his thoughts in a summary fashion that helps the prayer move along.

Our Father who art in heaven,
To whom I pray with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven,
Hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come,
May it be realized,
That kingdom that is in the unfallen parts of this beautiful Creation – beyond the suffering of humans and animals;
    That kingdom that dwells in the hearts of all the best lives of your saints in this world;
    That kingdom where rejoice the blessed dead.
Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven
That divine plan and wisdom we patiently accept, though it may be difficult for us;
    May I have the grace to vigorously bring it to pass myself, bearing the mind of Christ as I do so, in both the little and big things of life;
    And may I have the grace to live in the blessings of the present.
Give us this day our daily bread.
All those things requisite and necessary as well for the body as the soul.
And forgive us our trespasses,
As we forgive those who trespass against us.*
And lead us not into temptation,

But deliver us from evil.
    Spare me, and do not answer my prayers if the answers would not be good for me.
For thine is the kingdom,
The Divine right to rule,
and the power,
For you alone are the 0mnipotent God,
and the glory,
That beauty for which we long
Forever and ever.  Amen.

*Lewis says he doesn’t need to festoon this one; it’s all too clear as it is!

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The Genius of “The Grand Miracle”

The twelfth-century mosaic in the Basilica of San Clemente in Rome; the Cross as the Tree of Life. https://www.commonwealmagazine.org/blog/tree-life-0

The twelfth-century mosaic in the Basilica of San Clemente in Rome; the Cross as the Tree of Life.

One of the wonderful things about Lewis’ article, “The Grand Miracle,” is that it incarnates the very virtue that Lewis says demonstrates the reality of the miracle of the Incarnation.  For one thing, he surprises us.  As Western moderns, we would have anticipated that Lewis would have reveled in the spirituality of the Christian religion or the more theological aspects of the Incarnation touching specifically upon “salvation”.  Instead, he revels in the truth of the Incarnation by reveling in nature.  The virtue of the Incarnation is the way it leads to the redemption and renewal of all of nature.

But note that his argument is not based upon abstract philosophical arguments, nor upon proof-texting from Scripture.  Rather, it is all a reflection upon the amazing complexity of nature, in its twisted ugliness and in its inherent beauties.  Especially, Lewis wants us to recognize that, because of the Incarnation – the whole story of Jesus, past, present and future – nature is going to be an even more wonderful thing than we have ever known.

Lewis in his own way incarnates the Incarnation in his examination of what the Incarnation means for us.  His  nature-focused explanation of the truth of the Incarnation enlightens our whole understanding of what Jesus has done for mankind.  It makes us think about the Christian story, the Christian religion, in a way that seems to be rather ignored by many.  It shines a grandeur upon the Christian faith by drawing in the whole story of the Creation, it’s fall, redemption, and renewal.  It causes passages of Scripture, such as Romans 8, to stand out in sharp relief, more than they do in sermons and books focused on “salvation” and “justification.”  It helps to open a door to Christian reflection on how we relate to the environment.  It helps us see our lives in that “whole, huge pattern” of Incarnation so that the very air we breath and the sun shining on the flowers and the birds singing in the trees leads us to think about our own personal and corporate redemption as humans.

I could go on, but my point is that the essay is like a missing chapter in much of Evangelical thinking about the story of Jesus.  Lewis, via this essay, steps into our minds, lifts them up from their limited perspectives, and brings us up into an air filled with wonder, both spiritual and natural.  We suddenly see ourselves in a truly sacramental universe.  We find the truth of Christian faith established in our hearts in a new and wonderful way that makes us to not only want to kiss the Cross, but the very earth on which we stand.

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Lewis’ Anglicanism: Imagery in the Liturgy

Holy Trinity Church, Headington Quarry; the home church of C. S. Lewis

Holy Trinity Church, Headington Quarry; the home church of C. S. Lewis

Anyone who tries to keep up with the secondary literature on Lewis has to recognize that the idea of Lewis being a misogynist is pure balderdash. One of the greatest proofs of this fact is his essay in God in the Dock: “Priestesses in the Church.” While some look at this essay as a proof of the opposite, a close reading of it demonstrates his great esteem for the opposite sex.

In this essay, Lewis says that women are perfectly capable of doing all the things a man may do as a priest in the Church, save only one thing, and that one thing has nothing to do with capability. It has to do with the reality of gender in God’s universe. Our Lord is a guy. When the priest – standing in for the Lord – speaks as God’s representative to the Church (the Bride of Christ), the imagery presented requires that a man fill this role.

I have not, however, gotten back into this essay because I want to write about the idea of priestesses. I do so because of the glimpse that it gives us of one aspect of Lewis’ Anglicanism. We find here Lewis being sensitive to the imagery presented by the traditional liturgy. He writes as one who accepts and appreciates it. Indeed, it is this appreciation for the imagery in the liturgy in this particular instance that gives the reason for his position on priestesses. If he did not abide by this meaning behind the priest’s role in a particular part of the liturgy, he would have no reason to argue against priestesses.

Henry Blamires is quoted by Lyle Dorsett as saying, “Lewis was at times quite high on the Anglican spectrum and at other times rather low. It all depended upon the doctrine and the practice.” (1) We know that historic, low-church Anglicanism which used the Prayer Book and the basic elements of the traditional liturgy would not have made much of the imagery at issue above, though it is congruent with it. Holy Trinity, Headington Quarry – Lewis’ home church – was of this ilk. But it is apparent that, when Lewis attended his church, he did not have the same distaste for its liturgy that he may have had for the hymns being used – we know he tended not to like those. He appreciated the symbolic imagery he viewed at worship. One would also conclude that he would not have appreciated today’s low church Evangelical Anglicanism, which hardly consults the Prayer Book at all, and has little respect for the priestly imagery in the liturgy.

It must be mentioned, however, that in the first letter of Letters to Malcolm, Lewis states that he could bear with any liturgy just as long as it is the same at every service. This does not, of course, undo anything he has said in the above essay.

Being the imaginative and aesthetically oriented man that he was, it is no surprise that he would pick up on the symbolic imagery of the traditional liturgy and appreciate it. For those of us who are interested in Lewis as a case-study of Anglican laity, he reminds us of that great company that has tread and still treads The Narrow Road to Glory, uplifted and strengthened by the beauty of the drama in the traditional liturgy, as composed by Cranmer in The Book of Common Prayer.

Do you have a story of how the liturgy of the Prayer Book has been a benefit to you spiritually?  Why not share it with us in the comments below.  Thanks!

(1) Lyle Dorsett, Seeking the Secret Place – The Spiritual Formation of C. S. Lewis, p. 97.

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Summarizing Lewis’ comments on Gethsemane

This video was shot in the orchard garden behind The Kilns in Oxford.  I summarize Lewis’ three main observations about Jesus’ prayer in the garden of Gethsemane in his book, Letters to Malcolm.  I will not be using this clip in my new course on the book, because the lighting didn’t work, as you will be able to see.  I wasn’t real wild about how it went either. Anyhow, the clip is about 5 & a half minutes.

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Discerning the Body

I recorded this 1 minute video in the sanctuary of Holy Trinity Church, Headington Quarry, the home church of C. S. Lewis.  I refer to how Lewis takes the Church to task over its divisions related to The Lord’s Supper.  Click on the link below to see it.


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Busy in Oxford


That’s me at Holy Trinity Church, Headington Quarry, doing a video shoot for my course today.

Hey, Folks:

Sorry I’m behind posts, but this video course on Letters to Malcolm is keeping me pretty busy.  It’s like preparing a sermon or two, then delivering them, plus recording them on video (with all that involves), every day!   Whew!

I’ll be back on schedule when I get home.  🙂

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A Barfieldian Guess


If you are like me, the picture of the origin of the new heavens and the new earth in the last letter to “Malcolm” is a bit odd.  It certainly is not the depiction of the after-life we find in Lewis’ other writings.  Why has Lewis seemingly changed his view of the after-life?  I’m not sure he really has.

The origin of this idea or “guess” as Lewis calls it of the afterlife is Owen Barfield’s idea of the power of the soul which we find in his book Saving Appearances.  Lewis has already mentioned this book twice before in Letters to Malcolm.  Barfield sees the soul through its participative and figuring power as capable of creating reality.  In a sense, the soul is the source of being of the world we perceive and categorize.  The soul has a creational power.

Lewis says the human soul – augmented, as it were, by its union with the creative power of the life of Christ Himself – is going to be the source of the New World and the new life to come.  Yes, Christ is going to prepare a place for us, but he is going to do so through his enabling union with our souls.  And as Barfield anticipated centuries of human life as necessary for the recreation of the human idea of reality in this world, so Lewis says it is going to take aeons for our souls to recreate the new world.

This is why his depiction of the after-life strikes us.  It’s not the traditional idea.  It’s a Barfieldian resurrection; a Barfieldian after-life.  Why does Lewis do this?  Does he really believe that this is the nature of the resurrection?  I’m not so sure.

He says he’s only guessing.  He certainly has not depicted the after-life in this fashion before.  Lewis went along with a lot of what Barfield said about the powers of the soul, but he stopped short at their ability to actually affect objective reality.  Is it possible – and frankly, it strikes me as just the kind of thing Lewis might do – that he is here at the end of his book winking at Barfield and saying, “OK, Owen.  All these years I’ve denied this much power to the soul, but I tell you what.  I’ll grant it to you in the after-life!  There all things are possible – even your idea of the soul.”  It could be.  But then, I’m only guessing back at Lewis.  What do you think? 🙂

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Morning Prayer and Getting the Day Started


While preparing for my Letters to Malcolm course, I’ve been reading a bit in Bonhoeffer’s Life Together.  Since Lewis’ book is about private prayer and not corporate, I wanted to see if Bonhoeffer would raise any issues about corporate prayer that would act as a foil to Lewis.

Anyhow, I’ve just read Bonhoeffer on how important it is to have prayer in the morning before going to work.  His words about our daily work are really insightful.  But I pause a bit at the way he talks so absolutely about the relation of morning prayer and work, or “how our day goes.”  It’s just because of what my own experience has been through the years regarding the matter of praying before you do anything else in the day.  Here’s my reaction:

I have found this rule about morning prayer and work to be generally true.  But if for some reason we miss this particular time for prayer in the morning, the Lord’s mercies are through the whole day.  We may suspect that our struggles through the day may have been lessened had we prayed, but we can bank on God mercifully hearing us through the day when we need him.  We have to beware of thinking we are locked into an automatic equation: no morning prayer = no good day.  It leads to a legalistic relating to the Lord and a mercenary attitude as well.  We want to pray in the morning because it is the right thing to do and God deserves our praises – not so we can have a happier or more successful day.  Our life with God is based, not on our performance in any duty, but in the mercy and grace of God to us through Christ.  My 2 cents.

What are your thoughts about it?  Do you feel down or oppressed in someway if you have missed a time of prayer first thing in the morning?  Why is prayer at the beginning of the day so important to you?

Image: wikimedia commons
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Lewis and Silent Prayer


I’ve been reflecting on Lewis’ words about silent prayer in Letters to Malcolm off and on for a while.  He talks about it in the early letters of the book.  As he explains the role that words play in our prayers, he mentions that silent prayer is better than prayer with words.  It is common for people to wonder just what he is talking about when he says this.

In Letter III, he says that he is not referring to what mystics will call silent prayer.  We understand that to be a reference to some sort of fixed vision, in which case the mind is not attempting expression but is filled with revelation.  Rather, as he writes in Letter II, he means a prayer when the Lord is quickly bringing people and situations to our minds and we know that we express our desires concerning these things as they move through our consciousness with that intensity of concentration that one knows as a real communication.  He also admits that such praying requires one to be unusually fit both in body and spirit.  It is not in this life an experience we should consider as “the norm.”

I have tried to understand why Lewis thought this kind of praying superior to prayer with words.  I have thought that perhaps he considered it somehow as a more purely spiritual experience.  But that is not what is going on here.  It’s actually an application of definition and logic.

What are words?  They are vehicles of communication for our thoughts.  Words serve thoughts.  Words are thus secondary to thoughts; it’s “the thought that counts.”  True, the use of words may have an inherent art or beauty and be the focus of attention in certain cases.  But when we consider the main purpose of words, we recognize their serving function.  That is why Lewis considers a prayer without words a better prayer – if it can be achieved – because it is “purer” in a sense.  It is filled with the main issue, which is the petition itself.

Yet, Lewis recognizes our limitation in this area, as I’ve mentioned above.  That is why words are still very important in this life.  Since our thoughts are so easily distracted or adversely affected by our circumstances, they often need the aid of words to facilitate concentration and communication when we pray.  As Lewis depicts the situation, words help our thoughts to run in canals instead of getting spread all out into shallow puddles and thus fail to be effective.

The upshot of this is to recognize that there will be times when we are carried along by the Spirit in prayer and words are not needed; he knows what we are thinking.  But our normal practice is to work on our words to be sure they are serving our thoughts well.  Since we all need help in that area, the use of the prayers of other people – “ready-made” prayers, as Lewis calls them – can be of much use.

Of course, the best source is the book of Psalms.  The more familiar we are with that book, the more likely the words of our prayers will be what they should be.  My two cents.

Image: http://absfreepic.com/free-photos/download/praying-in-the-church-5891x3933_44885.html
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