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.

Purgatorio (Dante; Sayers, trans)

The goal of the journey is to free our judgment.  In hell we flee to the “iron-bound prison of the self” (Sayers 16). Purgatory’s atmosphere might surprise the reader at first glance.  As Sayers notes, we are hit with “its freshness, sparkle, and gaiety” (19). Unlike Hell, Purgatory has community.  There is an ontological exchange of love and prayer. Indeed, here prayer is restored.  There is actually a liturgical discipline, as each cornice must sing and/or re-narrate a Psalm from Israel’s history.

Liturgical Discipline:
* “In exitu Israel de Aegyptu” (II.46). 

*  Wrathful: Agnus Dei (16.18).

* Gluttonous: labina mea Domine (Ps. 51; Purgatorio 23.11).

* Lustful: Summa Deus Clementiae (25.121).

Theological theme: love is the root of all vice as well as all virtue.

THE ARRANGEMENT

Imagine a conical mountain.  At the very bottom are two terraces, Ante-Purgatory.  These are the “death-bed” confession types.  From here they enter “Peter’s Gate, “which is approached by the Three Steps of Penitence: Confession, Contrition, and Satisfaction” (64).

There is something else unique about the mountain.  At first glance, it seems like the road spirals up the mountain.  Just keep walking and you get to a higher level.  In a sense, that is true. Yet, when one reaches the end of a cornice, he can’t simply walk up to the next one.  The path ends, but to the side there is a small stairway cut into the mountain.  Entering that stairway can be quite difficult.

On Purgatory Proper there are seven cornices, which purge the stains of sin.

Lower Purgatory: Love Perverted.  Love of injury to one’s neighbor.

  • Pride: Superbia. Love of self perverted to hatred of one’s neighbor.
  • Envy.  Invidia. Love of one’s own good perverted to wish harm to neighbor’s good.
  • Wrath.  Ira. Love of justice perverted to revenge.

Mid Purgatory: Love Defective. 

  • Sloth. Acedia.  Failure to love a thing in its proper proportion.  Namely, we fail to love God with all our heart.

Upper Purgatory.  Love Excessive. Only one object is to be loved with all our heart. This means there is a hierarchy of goods.

  • Cornice Five: Avarice.  Excessive love of money.
  • Cornice Six.  Gluttony.  Excessive love of pleasure.
  • Cornice Seven.  Lust.  Excessive love of persons.

Sayers has an interesting observation: Dante sleeps only in Purgatory, because unlike Infernus and Paradise, Purgatory is in time. It is not an eternal state.

Cornice of Envy: Like at other cornices, this one is introduced with a verse from Mary; here it is vinum non habent. The scourge of the sin of envy is fashioned with cords of love (13.39). They have their eyes sewn shut with wires of iron.  This makes them depend on their neighbor (and perhaps his good). It is also similar to putting a hood on a falcon.  It forces the beast to shed fear and calm down.

Sayers notes that envy, unlike other sins, contains an element of fear (170). Am I afraid that others might do well?  (This, of course, is the sin of Wokism.) It is best illustrated by Guido del Duca (it feels like half the people in the poem are named Guido, and that isn’t racist for me to point out since I am part Italian in heritage),

“And in my heart such envy used to burn,
If I’d caught someone looking pleased with life,
Thou wouldst have seen how livid I could turn” (14.82-84).

Canto 15: The Angel of Generosity, demonstrating the contrary of Envy, erases the second P from Dante’s head.  One counter to envy is true partnership, or as Augustine put it, “common objects of love.”  Virgil tells Dante that when they share such goods, they aren’t diminished but increased: “The more enamoured souls dwell there at once/Ever the better and the more they love/Each glassing each, all mirrors and all suns” (15.73-75).  Love is a “force multiplier,” so to speak.  It’s easiest to see this when we take “knowledge.”  If I share my knowledge, I don’t decrease my knowledge.  I multiply it. This is what Augustine, the Fransiscans, and Wyclif meant about sharing spiritual goods.

Cornice III: The Wrathful

The wrathful have to sing the Agnus Dei. They must go through thick smoke.  As they can no longer see, they have to listen.

Love of the Good is here restored.  Every creature has love.  It either has a proper object or not, but it still has love. There is a three-fold mis-love: faulty aim (at the wrong Good), too much zeal (excessive love) or lack thereof” (love defective, Sayers 201).

Cornice IV: The Slothful

Mary’s example: she ran in haste to Elizabeth.

As Sayers notes, sloth poisons the will (209). It is a deliberate refusal of joy.

When virtue springs from the heart, it must kindle a reciprocal love (22.10-12).

There is a strange section where Dante meets sodomites on the Cornice of the Lustful.  How is that possible, given the previous meeting in Hell?  He really doesn’t say, but I think we see a similar example today: take the advocates of “Side B Christianity.”  There you have it. Interestingly enough, this is the only Cornice where the penitents walk against the Sun, illustrating that their sin was against nature.

Sayers’ Notes on Purgatorio

Pin on Images of Dante

The goal of the journey is to free our judgment.  In hell we flee to the “iron-bound prison of the self” (Sayers 16).

Purgatory’s atmosphere might surprise the reader at first glance.  As Sayers notes, we are hit with “its freshness, sparkle, and gaiety” (19).

Unlike Hell, Purgatory has community.  There is an ontological exchange of love and prayer.

THE ARRANGEMENT

Imagine a conical mountain.  At the very bottom are two terraces, Ante-Purgatory.  These are the “death-bed” confession types.  From here they enter “Peter’s Gate, “which is approached by the Three Steps of Penitence: Confession, Contrition, and Satisfaction” (64).

On Purgatory Proper there are seven cornices, which purge the stains of sin.

Lower Purgatory: Love Perverted.  Love of injury to one’s neighbor.

  • Pride: Superbia. Love of self perverted to hatred of one’s neighbor.
  • Envy.  Invidia. Love of one’s own good perverted to wish harm to neighbor’s good.
  • Wrath.  Ira. Love of justice perverted to revenge.

Mid Purgatory: Love Defective. 

  • Sloth. Acedia.  Failure to love a thing in its proper proportion.  Namely, we fail to love God with all our heart.

Upper Purgatory.  Love Excessive. Only one object is to be loved with all our heart. This means there is a hierarchy of goods.

  • Cornice Five: Avarice.  Excessive love of money.
  • Cornice Six.  Gluttony.  Excessive love of pleasure.
  • Cornice Seven.  Lust.  Excessive love of persons.

A catalogue of justice

What does justice mean?  Answering this question is necessary before you start claiming you want “justice in the public sphere.”  I am looking through Oliver and Joan Lockwood O’Donovan’s From Irenaeus to Grotius on how earlier Christian thinkers reflected on justice.

Image result for from irenaeus to grotius

Background: Aristotle (Nic. Ethics, BK V). 

Equality is a kind of proportion, a relation of four terms. The treatment of one person is equivalent to the treatment of another person.   Distributive justice is a geometric proportion:  the treatment then differs between the persons’ estates.  

The Christian conclusion to all of this is that there is more to justice than the fair exchange of property rights.  Neo-liberals tend to construe justice in transactional terms. Aristotle said justice was “just distribution,” but how do we go about that?  

The Christian witness saw a new aspect to justice:  performative justice, or judgment (O’Donovan 170).

John of Salisbury: “Injustice is (as the stoics agree) a mental disposition (mentis habitus) which removes equity from the realm of morals….Moreover, justice consists chiefly in this: do no harm and prevent the doing of harm out of a duty to humanity” (Policratus 4.8).

Thomas Aquinas

Moral virtue of rendering to others their due (ST 2a 2ae. 57.1). It is a balance of equity. In terms of property Thomas says that while community of goods is part of the natural law, it does not follow that private property is outlawed.  All this means is that the natural order doesn’t tell you how to divvy up the land–only, one can’t take land that makes another starve (ST 2a 2ae. 66.2).

Dante: “Justice is at its strongest only under a monarch; therefore, monarchy or empire is essential if the world is to attain to a perfect order” (Monarchia 1.11). Dante’s reasoning seems to be that justice is most powerful if it is concentrated.  If we divide justice among rulers, we weaken justice.

Jean Gerson: “The definition of justice is: a perpetual and constant will to assign everything its proper right” (On Church Power and the Origin of Law and Right, sec 13). He then defines “right” as “a proximate faculty or power which belongs to some subject as prescribed by primary justice.”

Hugo Grotius

justice in transactions: this is strict justice as such, a proportionality between entities (citations from The Right of War and Peace, 1.8). Grotius calls this expletive justice, implementing rights that already exist.

Distributive justice: there is no inherent claim to right, but only a potential for it.

Grotius brings together Aristotelian distinctions with that of subjective rights.   

subjective right:  right attaching to a subject (Irenaeus to Grotius, 797-799).  A faculty is a right in the strict sense (entitles me to claim something as my own).  

  • faculty::act
  • fitness::potency

Grotius reworks subjective rights, not as entitlement, but as “fitness” or “aptitude.”