Tuesday, August 24, 2010

C. S. Lewis on Genesis

Alice C. Linsley

C. S. Lewis was a prolific writer whose works are not easily classified. Were he writing today he might have a difficult time finding a publisher since the scope of his work is broad, not easily classified, politically incorrect and definitely Christian. The poor fellow would be relegated to Christian bookstores where his writings would outshine the ego-gratifying, life-improvement-through-Jesus junk, but be read by too few. What a loss to the world! Fortunately, he wrote at a time when people still appreciated literary excellence, though they didn’t always agree with what he wrote.

The C. S. Lewis worldview, if we can speak of such a thing, is complex in that he was willing to entertain the possibility of evolution in Mere Christianity, but portrays the end of the age in The Last Battle much as it is described in the New Testament: the heavens and the earth curl up like a parchment placed in a roaring fire. To escape destruction, Aslan urges his followers to move “higher up and farther in.” This is an echo of words from the Magician’s Nephew, the story in which Narnia was created. This could be Lewis’ motto for the Christian life, a motto that points us to the great mystery of Life. We find it expressed in these words from his essay on women priests: “With the Church, we are farther in: for there we are dealing with male and female not merely as facts of nature but as the live and awful shadows of realities utterly beyond our control and largely beyond our direct knowledge. Or rather, we are not dealing with them but (as we shall soon learn if we meddle) they are dealing with us.”

Lewis on the Generative Word
Aslan, the Great Lion, creates by singing. Once his generative song accomplishes its purpose, the order of creation is fixed. The magic of the Song lasts only so long. Once it ceases, Aslan's handiwork is complete and humans can't add or detract from the original pattern. Uncle Andrew, the personification of the modern materialist, hopes to profit from the generative power of the Song, but he is so intimidated by the Singer that he moves lower down and farther out. This is the fate of all materialists. They think of themselves as great innovators and yet they block metaphysical discussion by insisting that religion and science don’t mix.

Uncle Andrew’s attraction to Jadis (of the "Deplorable Word") is natural since she too is a materialist, only with an ego as great as Satan’s. Jadis is stirred into action after a period of dormancy when Digory rings a golden bell that sounds “like the crash of a falling tree” (Magician’s Nephew, Chapter 4). As the ringing grows louder, the vibrations bring further destruction to the wicked queen’s kingdom. Digory and Polly are barely able to escape that dark world, but they are not able to escape the evil which now pursues them. Here Lewis casts Digory and Polly in the roles Adam and Eve at the Fall. Interestingly, Lewis portrays Eve in a more compassionate light than Genesis 3 because Polly tries to prevent Digory from ringing the bell and is physically abused for doing so.

Lewis on Adam and Eve
Lewis never lets Adam off the hook as the one who, by virtue of being the first created and the strongest, is the ruler responsible for the welfare of others. Prince Rilian’s mother is bitten by a serpent and dies. Rilian daily seeks the creature to avenge his mother’s death. When the encounter comes, he doesn’t recognize the creature because it appears as “the most beautiful thing that was ever made” (The Silver Chair, Chapter 4). He is seduced by her beauty. This is not Eve who seduces Adam into eating the forbidden fruit. This is the serpent which seeks to enslave him.

Lewis on the Tree of Life
The Tree of Life appears in different forms in Lewis' tales; sometimes as an apple tree and sometimes as a lantern. Lewis places the tree and lantern "in the midst of the garden" (Gen. 3:3) or in the midst of the wood.  Here he is building on an significant detail in Genesis which places the Cross at the sacred center of the cosmos. The tree and lantern are symbols of the Cross of Jesus Christ. He, like the lantern in the Narnian wood, comes from another place (heaven) and He gives light by His Cross to all worlds.
Since Digory (Adam) is responsible for bringing evil into Narnia, Aslan holds him responsible for correcting the wrong.  To do so, Digory must bring an apple from the tree that is in the midst of the garden. This apple is used to protect Narnia and fruit from the Narnian apple tree brings healing to Digory's dying mother.  The doctor is baffled by her sudden improvement.
After their adventures in Narnia, Digory and Polly bury the rings (symbols of Uncle Andrew's false beliefs) in the back yard. A great tree grows in this place and when that tree is felled in a windstorm, the wood is used to construct a wardrobe. The wardrobe, like the Cross, brings the children to Aslan and opens the way to the Kingdom of the Emperor Beyond the Sea.

1 comment:

Hans Georg Lundahl said...

The maybe weakest part of Magician's Nephew is creation of talking animals.

Theologically and philosophically, that is.

But at least it is better than the Evolutionist Scenarios for man.

Fledge was not elevated above the stallion and mare he came from except after belonging for very long to someone far higher than they, Frank.

Talking dogs and elephants were separated from non-talking former equals, not from non-talking parents.

And you could argue that the talking mice in a sense, before they talked, were "adopted" by whoever said "no, don't, they are nibbling away his ropes". Was it Su or Lu?

No such scenario in sight for first men to have come from being non-human animals. condemnation number 11 (or chapter X, 5) of Bishop Tempier's condemnations from letare sunday 1276/1277 argues that man does not exist other than as endowed with nous (because that is what rationale means in scholastic context, whatever mistranslations you might have made about "animal rationale") - meaning that no individual being can change from man to living non-man or other way round.