Lewis was born to save the modern world from trashing its traditions – both Christian and classical. Once he had converted from his own “chronological snobbery,” he quickly found a vocation in recovering tradition for others. This is the second post from the “Tradition chapter” of Medieval Wisdom: An exploration with C S Lewis. The first is here.
For an idea of how Lewis viewed the power of tradition, we turn to his answer to the Christian Century magazine when they asked him, “What books did most to shape your vocational attitude and your philosophy of life?” The wording of that question is crucial. They asked not “what books did most to influence your style?” or “fire your imagination?” or “give you templates for your own writing?” etc., but rather “what books shaped your vocational attitude and philosophy of life.” As we see in the preface to Sister Penelope’s translation of Athanasius’s De Incarnatione, retitled “On reading old books” in later anthologies, and even more in his De Descriptione Temporum address at Cambridge in the Fall of 1954, nothing more triggered for Lewis “the place where his deep gladness met the world’s deep need” than the modern abandonment of tradition. I mean his sense that in abandoning tradition, the modern world had dealt itself a grievous wound, which only his Christian faith kept him from seeing as inevitably fatal.
Lewis was perhaps the best prepared person of his generation for the task of appreciating and passing on the wisdom of past generations to those yet to come. Continue reading
A depiction of Boetius teaching his students (1385). Boetius, a 6th century Christian philosopher, helped keep alive the classic tradition in post-Roman Italy. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Before beginning the research on Getting Medieval with C S Lewis, I had often thought that there is something a bit exotic and strange about Lewis’s treatment of desire and salvation. Now I know what that is: he was a Neoplatonic Christian in a Boethian mold. This bit of the “affective devotion chapter” sorts some of that out, with the help of Canadian philosopher and Lewis specialist Adam Barkman.
Lewis’s reading of Boethius, quite a while before his Christian conversion, revealed to him a particularly Christian understanding of the role of our desires in the path to God. His knowledge of this tradition would lead Lewis to craft a form of a traditional apologetic argument for Christianity: the argument from desire.
Since Boethius’s book was one of the most translated, most influential books of the whole middle ages, let’s look for a moment at how this influential argument from desire looks in the Consolation. Boethius the character in the allegory begins the book in a very agitated state. His fortunes have turned for the worse, he has been accused of political skullduggery, his goods have been confiscated, he is under arrest. And with the righteous fervor of a Job and the melancholy of a Psalm of lament, he says, “I seem to see the wicked haunts of criminals overflowing with happiness and joy.” How is it that the wicked can be enjoying themselves, and he, who has lived an upright life as a faithful servant of Theodoric, has had happiness snatched away from him?
Now Lady Philosophy spends much of the first half of the book convincing Boethius that the things he thinks will bring him secure happiness—money, fame, power, pleasure—are actually will-o-the-wisps, or pale shadows of true happiness. But she does not disagree with Boethius’s premise: that happiness is our proper end. Continue reading
Here’s a bit of Lewis material from the draft introduction to the “affective devotion” chapter of my Getting Medieval with C S Lewis. This is the setup for the following post, which will delve more into what Lewis, following Boethius and the Neoplatonists, thought was our real desire, and how following it would make us more truly ourselves:
Lewis was a scholar of the medieval period, but his medievalism was much more than intellectual. He was medieval not only in his mind, but also in his heart. This we see not only in his youthful encounters with sehnsucht (yearning joy) while reading medieval Norse myths, or in his abiding affection for the passionate poetic vision of Dante, but also in his love for the way medieval people viewed the world and their place in it. As he said in The Discarded Image: “I have made no serious effort to hide the fact that the old [medieval cosmological] Model delights me as I believe it delighted our ancestors.”
At the center of this heart sympathy for the medieval way of seeing the world was a very particular understanding of how our emotions move each of us along our path to God. Significantly, in his apologetic writings, Lewis frames both his own movement toward faith and the usual human process of conversion as an Augustinian quest of desire. Augustine’s dictum “Our hearts are restless until they rest in thee” and his cry, in the Confessions, “Inebriate me, O God!” arose from a Christianization of a classical philosophy called eudaemonism (from the Greek word for happiness, eudaimonia). Classical philosophers had asked, “What makes man truly happy?” Early and medieval Christian eudaemonists answered out of the ubiquitous scriptural language of reward: We are happy when God fulfills his promises and our desires by giving us his loving presence. According to Augustine, the key to happiness is to want the one right thing, which is God himself.
Lewis agreed, and he found pernicious and un-Christian the modern ethic of absolute abnegation of desire: Continue reading
I just read that I’m now a “distinguished guest speaker.” Checked quickly in the mirror: doesn’t look like I have any more grey hairs . . .
Anyhow, the Madison C S Lewis Society has just posted the audio of a tremendous series of nine top scholars, plus me, speaking at their Oct 2012 conference on the ten books that most influenced C S Lewis. I’ve got to say this was the most stimulating conference I’ve attended in a long, long time.
These were the books Lewis listed toward the end of his life in answer to a question from the American magazine The Christian Century about which books had most influenced his “sense of vocation and philosophy of life.” My assignment: to discuss how Boethius’s Consolation of Philosophy, of which the medievalist Lewis said, “To acquire a taste for it is almost to become naturalized in the Middle Ages,” influenced the Oxford don.
Appropriate to my activities these days in Bethel Seminary’s Work with Purpose initiative, in this talk I pay particular attention to the question of how Lewis saw his own vocation as a public intellectual attempting to preserve and recommend the Old Western Christian tradition.
The link is here. (In my bit, the talk is around 40 minutes; the lively Q&A at the end is perhaps the most interesting part: you may just want to skip ahead!) And here is the full list of books and speakers:
|The Idea of the Holy by Rudolf Otto presented by Dr. Adam Barkman from Redeemer University College.
|The Life of Samuel Johnson by James Boswell presented by Dr. Paul Tankard from the University of Otago, NZ.
|Theism and Humanism by Arthur James Balfour presented by Dr. Charles Taliferro from St. Olaf College.
|The Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius presented by Dr. Chris Armstrong from Bethel University.
|Phantastes by George MacDonald presented by Dr. David Neuhouser from Taylor University
|The Temple by George Herbert presented by Dr. Don King from Montreat College.
|The Everlasting Man by G. K. Chesterton presented by Dr. Donald T. Williams from Toccoa Falls College.
|Descent Into Hell by Charles Williams presented by Dr. Holly Ordway, Houston Baptist University.
|The Aeneid by Virgil presented by Dr. Louis Markos from Houston Baptist University.
|The Prelude by William Wordsworth presented by Dr. Mary Ritter from New York University.
Boethius imprisoned (from 1385 manuscript of the Consolation) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
A while back I gave, at the Madison, Wisconsin C S Lewis Society’s conference, sponsored by the Bradshaw-Knight Foundation, a much fuller version of the take on Lewis’s “Boethianism” than the one I had originally tried out on the Medieval Congress CSL crowd at Kalamazoo. Here’s the Madison paper.
There’s more here on Boethius’s philosophical influence on Lewis, as well as a refinement on the ways in which Boethius seems to have influenced Lewis vocationally. I did, however, truncate the end from what I had prepared to give. I’ll add my original pre-conclusion ending, which reflects on fortune and eudaimonism using Lewis’s last published essay, “We have no ‘right to happiness,'” after the paper proper.
Probably the author who influenced me most in my expansion of the Kzoo paper was Adam Barkman. Serendipitously, I discovered a few days before the conference that he was to give the paper right after me. It was an honor to get to know him and hang out with him at the conference. Everyone interested in Lewis and philosophy, or really, everyone seriously interested in Lewis from any perspective, needs to buy Adam’s book, C. S. Lewis and Philosophy as a Way of Life.
“Lewis the Boethian,” paper for Bradshaw-Knight CSL conference Oct. 2012, Madison, Wisconsin
Copyright 2012 by Chris R. Armstrong. THIS PAPER IS DISTRIBUTED WITH THE UNDERSTANDING THAT THOSE READING IT WILL NOT CITE OR QUOTE IT WITHOUT EXPRESS PERMISSION FROM THE AUTHOR.
He was a philosopher first, and then a master of literature, with his Christianity informing both. Continue reading
Posted in Medieval Wisdom for Modern Protestants
Tagged Adam Barkman, Aristotle, Boethius, Consolation of Philosophy, CS Lewis, eudaemonism, Fortune, neoplatonism, Pagan culture, paganism, philosophy, Plato, The Discarded Image, vocation
Image via Wikipedia
What follows are some acute observations on the Christian landscape of the early Middle Ages from Bernard McGinn, The Growth of Mysticism (New York: Crossroad, 1994). For those interested in the monastic culture of the Middle Ages or the ins and outs of medieval spirituality, this is a wonderful text. McGinn has solidly mastered all that he writes about, and he communicates it in terms understandable to the nonspecialist reader.
The notes that follow are taken from Chapter 1, “The Making of Christendom.” Each note begins with the page number.
17 “The changes in Christian spirituality between 400 and 800 are especially significant for understanding the development of medieval Latin mysticism. No one disputes that these centuries saw the end of ancient Christianity, tied to the world of the late Roman city, and the birth of early medieval Christianity, more often than not rural and monastic in character. . . .” Continue reading
Posted in Medieval Wisdom for Modern Protestants, Resources for Radical Living
Tagged Augustine of Hippo, Benedict of Nursia, Benedict's Rule, Bernard McGinn, Boethius, Cassiodorus, compunction, education, fall of Rome, Gregory the Great, Middle Ages, monasticism, mysticism, Robert Markus
Though the following is far from a complete list of medieval material that C S Lewis read–he was, after all, a scholar of medieval and renaissance literature–it gives a taste:
The following medieval or medieval-related books are from the books listed in From the Library of C. S. Lewis: Selections from Writers Who Influenced His Spiritual Journey, compiled by James Stuart Bell with Anthony Palmer Dawson (Colorado Springs: WaterBrook Press, 2004). At least some of these may be found, say the compilers, in the library of Lewis’s books held at the Marion Wade Center at Wheaton College. Continue reading