The Medieval Mind of CS Lewis

One’s normal reaction to a new book about C.S. Lewis is probably the same as a new book on John Calvin or the Five Points of Calvinism: “Not another one.”  Jason Baxter’s book, however, has new material. Beginning with Michael Ward’s book on the planets and Narnia, theologians have realized that Lewis’s understanding of the heavenly spheres was more than just metaphorical.  He had the exact same outlook as the medieval writers.  We thank Jason Baxter for that insight.

Baxter sees Lewis as “Becoming Boethius.”  Like the early medieval figure, Lewis bridged the gap between the Christian medieval world, especially prior to Aquinas, and our own time. But if Lewis is going to be Boethius, and if we are going to see what such a mind looks like, we have to see how the medieval mind viewed the planets. The planets provided man with a “harmony of the spheres.”  The world and the planets were arranged in a musical interval.  Here Baxter does an extended analysis of scenes in Lewis’s The Discarded Image.[1] It looks like this:

God

Primum Mobile, which causes the stellatum to move. The stellatum then move Saturn.

Saturn, for Dante at least, is the heaven of contemplatives. More commonly, though, he is Father Time.

Jupiter is the king.

Mars is iron-like.

Sol, or Sun.

Venus

Mercury

In the Christian era, these heavens were associated with angels.  However, Lewis points out that the danger to monotheism “clearly came not from a cult of angels but from the cult of the Saints. Men when they prayed were not usually thinking of hierarchies and intelligences.”[2]

This extended detour serves to illustrate a point Baxter makes later. With the current talk about a disenchanted universe, one might be surprised to hear the disenchantment in the heavens.  No longer could the heavens be seen as a harmonic prove of Platonic solids.  That probably does not bother us like it would earlier ages.

Breathing Narnian Air

This was a fun chapter. Why do people resonate with Lewis’s works so much?  They do because Lewis enables them to experience what “an idea felt like.”  You feel the idea of Goodness. You can probably think back to a book where you had this experience.  For me it would have been Spenser’s Faerie Queene or the scene with Mr. Valiant-for-Truth in Pilgrim’s Progress.  In other words, you can “breathe the atmosphere of a story.”

There is a deeper philosophical issue at play as well.  For it we again turn to Boethius.  Humans normally know something via ratio, or discursive judgment. Every now and then, though, when hit with a powerful idea, we know via intellectus, or through actual intelligence.  This is more intuitive.  This is what Lewis meant in his famous essay about “looking along a beam of light.” When you look alongside a beam of light in a dark shed, your eyes are directed towards the opening and then you see much, much more.

Conclusion

I recommend this work to more advanced students of Lewis.  Baxter also deals with Till We Have Faces and mysticism, both good and bad, so Lewis argues, in Letters to Malcom.


[1] C. S. Lewis, The Discarded Image, (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1964), 102ff.

[2] Lewis, Ibid, 120.

Advertisement

One thought on “The Medieval Mind of CS Lewis

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s