An Oft Repeated Historial Fallacy

In speaking of the announcement last week that two more planets orbiting other stars have been found in habitable zones, Ross Douthat assumes an oft repeated fallacy regarding Medieval cosmology here. He writes,

“The first possibility obviously raises theological as well as scientific questions. In one sense, it elevates humanity, restoring us to an almost pre-Copernican position in the cosmos. At the same time, though, plenty of religious believers are untroubled (or even inspired) by the idea of extraterrestrial life, while the possibility that the cosmos might be as empty as it is vast raises troubling questions about what, exactly, its Designer had in mind. (“The eternal silence of these infinite spaces fills me with dread,” wrote the great Christian philosopher Blaise Pascal.)”

The false and often repeated belief is that Medieval cosmology elevated humanity by viewing the universe geocentrically as if the earth was the hub or the centre. This was not their understanding or assumption. Rather, C.S. Lewis explains,

“…men had realized that movement towards the centre of the earth from whatever direction was downward movement. For ages men had known, and poets had emphasized, the truth that earth, in relation to the universe, is infinitesimally small: to be treated, said Ptolemy, as a mathematical point (Almagest, i.v). Nor was it generally felt that earth, or Man, would lose dignity by being shifted from the cosmic centre. The central position had not implied pre-eminence. On the contrary, it had implied, as Montaigne says (Essais, n. xii), “the worst and deadest part of the universe’, ‘the lowest story of the house’, the point at which all the light, heat, and movement descending from the nobler spheres finally died out into darkness, coldness, and passivity. The position which was locally central was dynamically marginal: the rim of being, farthest from the hub.” 

English Literature in the Sixteenth Century Excluding Drama

Waistdeep in Romanticism

“I had already been waist­deep in Romanticism; and likely enough, at any moment, to flounder into its darker and more evil forms, slithering down the steep descent that leads from the love of strangeness to that of eccentricity and thence to that of perversity. Now Phantasies was romantic enough in all conscience; but there was a difference. . . . What it actually did to me was to convert, even to baptise . . . my imagination. It did nothing to my intellect nor (at that time) to my conscience. Their turn came far later and with the help of many other books and men.”

Rediscovered: C. S. Lewis TIME Magazine Cover Story – Sep. 8, 1947
Is today’s fascination with vampires and zombies a new romanticism?

Will the New Creation be a withering fast?

“The letter and spirit of scripture, and of all Christianity, forbid us to suppose that life in the New Creation will be a sexual life; and this reduces our imagination to the withering alternative either of bodies which are hardly recognisable as human bodies at all or else of a perpetual fast. As regards the fast, I think our present outlook might be like that of a small boy who, on being told that the sexual act was the highest bodily pleasure should immediately ask whether you ate chocolates at the same time. On receiving the answer ‘No,’ he might regard absence of chocolates as the chief characteristic of sexuality. In vain would you tell him that the reason why lovers in their carnal raptures don’t bother about chocolates is that they have something better to think of. The boy knows chocolate: he does not know the positive thing that excludes it. We are in the same position. We know the sexual life; we do not know, except in glimpses, the other thing which, in Heaven, will leave no room for it. Hence where fullness awaits us we anticipate fasting. In denying that sexual life, as we now understand it, makes any part of the final beatitude, it is not of course necessary to suppose that the distinction of sexes will disappear. What is no longer needed for biological purposes may be expected to survive for splendour. Sexuality is the instrument both of virginity and of conjugal virtue; neither men nor women will be asked to throw away weapons they have used victoriously. It is the beaten and the fugitives who throw away their swords. The conquerors sheathe theirs and retain them. ‘Trans-sexual’ would be a better word than ‘sexless’ for the heavenly life.”

C. S. Lewis, Miracles

I have a feeling you will see this again.

Perfect Substance

“A girl I knew was brought up by ‘higher thinking’ parents to regard God as perfect ‘substance.’ In later life she realized that this had actually led her to think of Him as something like a vast tapioca pudding. (To make matters worse, she disliked tapioca.) We may feel ourselves quite safe from this degree of absurdity, but we are mistaken. If a man watches his own mind, I believe he will find that what profess to be specially advanced or philosophic conceptions of God are, in his thinking, always accompanied by vague images which, if inspected, would turn out to be even more absurd than the manlike images aroused by Christian theology. For man, after all, is the highest of the things we meet in sensuous experience.”
Rediscovered C.S. Lewis Time Magazine Cover Story, September 8, 1947

Jovial Kingship


“Before the other angels a man might sink: before this he might die, but if he lived at all, he would laugh. If you had caught one breath of the air that came from him, you would have felt yourself taller than before. Though you were a cripple, your walk would have become stately: though a beggar, you would have worn your rags magnanimously. Kingship and power and festal pomp and courtesy shot from him as sparks fly from an anvil. The pealing of bells, the blowing of trumpets, the spreading out of banners, are means used on earth to make a faint symbol of his quality. It was like a long sunlit wave, creamy-crested and arched with emerald, that comes on nine feet tall, with roaring and with terror and unquenchable laughter. It was like the first beginning of music in the halls of some King so high and at some festival so solemn that a tremor akin to fear runs through young hearts when they hear it. For this was the great Glund-Oyarsa, King of Kings, through whom the joy of creation principally blows across these fields of Arbol,…. At his coming there was holiday in the Blue Room…”

C.S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength

Lewis captures the jovial spirit in the descent of Glund in That Hideous Strength. Notice the similar language in The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe. Lucy asks regarding Aslan, “Is he—quite safe?” To which Mr. Beaver replies, “Safe? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

Here’s Michael Ward talking about the Jovial spirit.


And the second part…

"We Teach the World We Create"

Dr. Michael Ward author of Planet Narnia gave a lecture in 2010 at the University of Kansas, Lawrence on his discovery as to the imaginative theme of the the Chronicles of Narnia. To listen to the entire two-part lecture is a time commitment, but if you want to understand the clever craft of the Chronicles, these are a great place to start.

And here’s Part 2

To Sea Like Lucy

Today is the feast day of Saint Lucy or Santa Lucia. Her feast day is celebrated by many denominations and traditions. Lucy’s martyrdom was most likely during the Diocletian persecution. Tradition tells us that she was blinded prior to her execution and so St. Lucy is the patron of the blind.

Of course, I think of a certain Lucy Pevensie who is a literary heroine of mine. No doubt C.S. Lewis knew her name was derived from the Latin lux (light). In the Narniad, Lucy is more often than not the one who sees things first. In fact, in Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Edmund while talking about Aslan with Eustace, has this to say:

“Well, don’t tell me about it, then,” said Eustace. “But who is Aslan? Do you know him?” “Well—he knows me,” said Edmund. “He is the great Lion, the son of the Emperor-beyond-the-Sea, who saved me and saved Narnia. We’ve all seen him. Lucy sees him most often.
Lewis, C. S. (2008-10-29). The Voyage of the Dawn Treader: The Chronicles of Narnia (pp. 117-118). Harper Collins, Inc.. Kindle Edition. 

“Lucy sees him most often.” I love that.

In honor of all the heroines who bear the name “Lucy”, here’s a children’s choir singing, “Santa Lucia”.