Tag Archives: heaven

C S Lewis: Why value our bodies? Because we can know God ONLY through the senses


The steeple of Macha church, built in 1911When modern Christians lose the wonder of the Incarnation, we lose also the wonder of our own humanity. We intellectualize and spiritualize the faith to the point where we forget a simple fact. That is, that we can know God ONLY through our senses.

Lewis insisted on this fact, and he tied it not only to the Incarnation (in writings such as his powerful sermon “Transposition”) but also to the New Creation. The bodies we will have in that new reality, he insists, will be not less, but more solid and corporeal than those we have now. There would be no Caspar-the-Ghost-like cloud-dwelling angelic afterlife for the Oxford don. In fact, compared to the solidity he believed we will have in the New Earth (and Christ already has at the Father’s right hand), our present bodies begin to look rather wispy!

The subjective side of the sacramental principle: We know Him only through our sense experience

Why is it so important that we affirm our embodiedness in our relationship with God? Because we receive everything we know about him through our bodies, our senses, our experiences. We have no other way to understand Him. Analogy is more than analogy: it is sacrament. To use a word Lewis used to title a key essay (to which we will return), it is “Transposition.” Continue reading

“Ticket to heaven”: C. S. Lewis’s debt to the Theologia Germanica on self-will, death, and heaven


Folks,

As I have for the past several years, I had the wonderful opportunity again this year to attend the International Medieval Congress in Kalamazoo, Michigan. The event happened a couple of weeks ago, and again I was able to participate in a wonderful session on the works of a famous medievalist whom almost nobody thinks about as a medievalist: C. S. Lewis. In fact this year, the intrepid Joe Ricke of Taylor University crafted, and Crystal Kirgiss’s Purdue C S Lewis Society co-sponsored, an entire track of three sessions on “Lewis and the ‘Last Things.'”

My paper was (perhaps nominally) on the topic of heaven, as well as on death. Here it is, with work yet to be done on it before it finds published form, much-modified, in my upcoming book Getting Medieval with C S Lewis. 

(This is copyright 2013 by me, Chris R. Armstrong, and posted here with the understanding that those reading it will not cite or quote it without express permission from the author.)

Chris Armstrong, International Medieval Congress, Kalamazoo, MI  May 2013 

“Ticket to heaven”: Lewis’s debt to the Theologia Germanica on self-will, death, and heaven

[This paper could perhaps more accurately have been titled: “For and against self-abandonment: C S Lewis’s uneasy relationship with the Pseudo-Dionysian teachings of the Theologia Germanica”]

C S Lewis was in a state of heightened awareness of his mortality when he sat down on Sept. 12th, 1938 to write to his friend Owen Barfield with the storm clouds of war gathering overhead. “My dear Barfield,” he wrote,

“What awful quantities of this sort of thing seem necessary to break us in, or, more correctly, to break us off. One thinks one has made some progress towards detachment . . . and begin[s] to realize, and to acquiesce in, the rightly precarious hold we have on all our natural loves, interests, and comforts: then when they are really shaken, at the very first breath of that wind, it turns out to have been all a sham, a field-day, blank cartridges.” (231) Continue reading

Neat series on John Milton’s Christian poem, Paradise Lost


English: Picturefirst published in the 1861's ...

Image from 1861 British edition of Paradise Lost

Found on Alan Jacobs’ excellent blog filled with snippets from the cyberworld, this neat series in the Guardian on John Milton’s Paradise Lost. A snippet (the one Alan presents, too):

By the time Milton reaches Book VII he has come to a kind of accord with his own frustration. All right, he says: I can’t get up to heaven, and if I try I “fall/Erroneous”. Writing purely about God, he comments, is like being an amateur rider on a particularly frisky winged horse. Humanity is the proper perspective for poetic endeavour; so he asks the Christian muse, Urania, to carry him downwards and deposit him safe in his “Native Element”. He will write now about the earth: about its nature, its making; about its creatures; about relationships and sex and intellectual curiosity and mistakes and sorrow and “the human face divine”.

This is most deeply God’s place to speak through his poet, he points out; singing amid violence; taking love into hell; readying himself for sacrifice, to be destroyed by the blind desires of an angry mob. The figure with whom he identifies in connection with this role is Orpheus, the prototype poet of myth. But, of course, he is thinking about Christ too, who in Christian theology is God suffering all that humans inflict on each other. There won’t be much explicit scope for Christ in Paradise Lost. But Milton sees his own position – surrounded by rabid Royalists, “fall’n on evil dayes”, slandered by “evil tongues” – as Christlike. In the face of violence, Milton too will sing.

Roger Olson follows C S Lewis in proposing a “Protestant purgatory” . . . heated discussion ensues


H/t to scientia et sapientia for alerting me to Baylor prof Roger Olson’s suggestion that perhaps Protestants today should take C S Lewis’s cue and consider the possibility of a purgatory-like intermediate state between death and heaven. You’ll see a variety of responses, some quite heated, at Roger’s blog. Also, scientia links a thoughtful critical response from Dallas Seminary grad and theological educator Michael Patton.

Roger’s proposal emerges from his understanding that there are “saints” in the history of Christianity–he singles out Augustine and Calvin, among others–who did terrible, hate-filled things. Do those people (or anyone else with such extreme “baggage”) get to leap straight from their deathbeds to the presence of the Holy God? Here are a few brief excerpts from Roger’s reflection: Continue reading

How the early church saw heaven and who they thought they’d meet there


Back in ’02, Newsweek did a cover article about the idea of “heaven.” It started, as I remember, with some reflections on the differing views of heaven held by the variety of people on the ill-fated airplane flights of 9/11, including those of the terrorists. This prompted me to wonder: what did the early church think about heaven? And I posted the following newsletter on www.christianhistory.net.

As this week’s Newsweek cover article insists, “heaven” is a powerful and pervasive word. It has been used to motivate people of many faiths in many ways: To instill character and strengthen resolve. To build community and spur change. To steel terrorists and comfort victims. It is easy to imagine this word, as the writers of the Newsweek article do, on the lips of both the hijackers of American Airlines Flight 11 and many of the passengers.

Apparently, although ministers in mainline Christian churches in America don’t preach much about heaven, 75 percent of Americans believe they’ll go there-if they’re good. Evangelicals talk more about the subject, believing that only faith in Christ can put them on the “highway to heaven.” And most folks expect that once through the gates, they will see not only their Lord, but also their loved ones (for some, including their pets).

For thoughtful Christians, all of this raises the question, “What did the early church believe about heaven?” The answer draws together both divine communion and human reunion.

For the apostles, heaven-as-divine-communion was a given. Indeed, in the New Testament the word “heaven” is often used to stand for God himself (Luke 15:21; Matt. 21:25, 23:22; John 3:27). Continue reading

Summary of chapter 9: Eternity, temporality, and the art of dying well


The medievalist C. S. Lewis could not shake the idea of purgatory—the place of final sanctification before the judgment. He believed it, though not (he said) in its full Roman Catholic panoply. This came partly from a seriousness about sin: surely none of us thinks we can stand before a holy God after death without some sort of cleansing! But the deeper grounding of the doctrine for Lewis as for the medievals is this: Our life is a breath; a blade of grass; a brief, transitory phase between birth and death; a twinkle in time compared to eternal life with God in heaven, or eternal damnation without God and with Satan in hell. You want to live it as well as you can, and when it comes time to die, you want to be as prepared as possible to meet your eternal destiny. Continue reading