If you would like to join C.S. Lewis in one of his Lenten experiences, read on, because I have the perfect suggestion for you.
During Lent, the forty days preceding Easter, many Christians undertake special “disciplines.” This practice is different from the familiar exercise of “giving things up” for the season.
These disciplines often include fasting and devoting more time to reading the Scriptures and inspiring Christian literature.
Two of C.S. Lewis’ letters mention that he was rereading, as part of his Lenten pilgrimage, two ancient classics that have inspired believers for nearly seventeen centuries.
In 1936, he wrote to Dom Bede Griffiths, a regular correspondent who was a Roman Catholic priest.
I re-read St. Augustine’s Confessions during Lent, and found it better than I remember, tho’ still it is the explicitly devotional parts that edify me least.
The following year he wrote the following in a letter to his childhood friend, Arthur Greeves.
I have been progressing all this lent through the first volume of a v[ery] nice edition of St Augustine’s City of God only to find that the other volume has been so wrongly bound that it begins and ends in the middle of sentences. What a tragedy this would once have been!
Lewis’ regard for Augustine lasted throughout his life. In 1961, Lewis responded to a correspondent who asked what books he would recommend to a recent convert. He included Augustine in that list, writing “St. Augustine’s Confessions will give you the record of an earlier adult convert, with many v. great devotional passages intermixed.”
Saint Augustine was a bishop in Hippo Regius, a city in north Africa. Augustine was a brilliant scholar who desperately sought the truth, and intently studied many religions and philosophies before finding Truth in the person of Jesus Christ.
His life is fascinating, in part because he lived during the turbulent era when Rome itself was sacked by the Vandals, who went on to conquer North Africa.
Augustine was a native African, a member of the Christian Berbers, who along with the Romans in the regions were destined to be overrun by Islamic armies.
Augustine was a prolific writer, and due to their spiritual value, many of his works are readily available today.
If you would like to read one of the volumes mentioned by C.S. Lewis, you can download copies of early translations at Internet Archives. Here are the links, with two biographical studies thrown in for good measure.
Sketch the development of human thought, estimate its significance. Compare with the development of any other kind of thought.
In contrast to the serious tone of the last two posts, today I am offering some edifying entertainment. As a gift to you, I have edited a perennial favorite of internet humorists. I recently came across my copy of this comprehensive knowledge examination, which motivated me to tweak it for Mere Inkling’s erudite audience.
You have probably seen versions of this exam in the past. The basic questions have remained surprisingly stable despite its age. I encountered it in the University of Washington campus paper in 1973. One writer claims “the Graduation Exam—Authentic Assessment has been in circulation since at least the 1950’s.”
The exam certainly makes the rounds, as this Navy veteran described.
The pressures of comprehensive exams were apparent to many, which resulted in one of the few officially sanctioned jokes in Naval Nuclear Power. In one of the official publications of Naval Reactors, someone inserted a sample “final exam” from Nuclear Power School.
In 2012 elements of the examination created confusion in the People’s Republic of China. It was included in an article about how Chinese nationals could prepare for an American State Department exam required for positions at the United States embassy in Beijing. According to China’s Global Times, “US embassy spokesman Richard Buangan made clear on his Sina microblog Sunday that an alleged ‘recruitment test for expatriate employees at the US embassy’ is fake.”
A June 2008 issue of Foreign Service Journal carried a story, which includes an English version of the [exam stating] the questions are from the US State Department’s entrance exam, in a bid to “measure the stability of perspective Foreign Service officers and to weed out the dummies.”
The Function of Examinations
Testing and documenting competence is obviously important. This is especially true for people in critical roles, such as prescribing drugs, designing aircraft engines, and manufacturing ice cream.
Of course, not everyone is able to pass every test. Which is precisely how things should be.
C.S. Lewis noted how educators truly familiar with their students readily recognize when it is a waste of time for them to continue repeating an exam they obviously cannot pass. He said an academic “master often knows, when boys and parents do not, that it is really useless to send a boy in for a certain examination again” (The Problem of Pain).
I have met very few people who enjoy being tested. Yet, for many faculty members (C.S. Lewis included), being on the “other side” of exams is not particularly enjoyable either. This delightful passage comes from a 1927 letter to his brother, Warnie.
My period of examining passed over with its usual accompaniment of neuralgia and oaths, relieved by the one excellent boy who defined ‘a genie’ correctly, yet more than correctly, as ‘an eastern spirit inhabiting bottles and buttons and rings.’ Pretty good for a boy.
I was also pleased with a youth who, being asked to write a letter to a friend recommending Guy Mannering,* wrote to his brother recommending it and saying ‘I think you would be interested in the character of Colonel Mannering, he is so like our father’: and then later in a paper on Guy Mannering in which I had set the question ‘Would you have liked Colonel Mannering as a father?’—illustrate your answer etc.—began decisively ‘I would not have liked Colonel Mannering as a father in the least.’
Well, it’s time now to offer you the opportunity to prove your worthiness. If you wish to evidence the breadth and depth of your knowledge, proceed now to the exam. (Astute readers will note I’ve added a personal twist to a couple of the exam questions.)
Comprehensive Knowledge Exam
HISTORY: Describe the history of the papacy from its origins to the present day, concentrating especially, but not exclusively, on its social, political, economic, religious, and philosophical impact on Europe, Asia, North and South America, and Africa. Be brief, concise, and specific. Now do the same for the Zoroastrian priesthood. [Bonus credit for including Antarctica in your response.]
MEDICINE: You have been provided with a razor blade, a piece of gauze and a bottle of scotch. Remove your appendix. Do not suture until your work has been inspected. You have fifteen minutes. [Option: if you feel the scotch would impair your responses to the remaining questions, you may defer this portion of the exam to the end of the exam.]
PUBLIC SPEAKING: Two thousand riot-crazed anarchists are storming the campus. Calm them. You may use any ancient language except Latin, Greek or Sanskrit. [Pig Latin is allowed.]
BIOLOGY: Postulate the 500 million year progression of a life form based on silicon, ranking its likely preference for form of government Enumerate the pros and cons it would associate with democracy, monarchy, socialism, theocracy, and totalitarianism. [Caution: any references to the Horta of Janus VI will result in disqualification of your answer, since Star Trek is a fictional resource.]
MUSIC: Write a piano concerto. Orchestrate and perform it with flute and digeridoo. You will find a piano under your seat. The wind instruments, of course, were among the items you were directed to bring with you to the examination.
PSYCHOLOGY: Based on your knowledge of their works, evaluate the emotional stability, degree of adjustment, and repressed frustrations of each of the following: Alexander of Aphrodisias, Hildegard of Bingen, Rābi’a bint Ka’b al-Quzdārī and Simeon the Stylite. Support your evaluation with quotations from each individual’s work, citing original sources. It is not necessary to translate.
SOCIOLOGY: Using the pretext of Planet of the Apes, where homo sapiens have been subordinated to various primate species, assess the prospects for achieving mutual toleration and equilibrium before one group is driven to extinction. [Caution: confusion of apes (which lack tails) and monkeys (which lack an appendix) will result in disqualification of your response.]
CHEMISTRY: Transform lead into gold. You will find a beaker, a three hundred count box of matches and five lead sinkers under your seat. Show all work including Feynman diagrams and quantum functions for all steps. [Transformation into silver will provide half credit.]
ENGINEERING: The disassembled parts of a high-powered rifle have been placed on your desk. You will also find an instruction manual, printed in Swahili. In 10 minutes a hungry Bengal tiger will be admitted to the room. [Special Consideration: Satisfactorily explain the differences between Fahrenheit and Celsius to the tiger, and it will be replaced by a rabid ferret.]
ECONOMICS: Develop a realistic plan for refinancing global debt, without hypothesizing a benevolent intergalactic alliance with unlimited resources coming to the planet’s aid. Trace the possible effects of your plan in the following areas: Cubism, the Donatist controversy, and the 1913 foundation of Hôpital Albert Schweitzer in Gabon.
POLITICAL SCIENCE: Devise an infallible, seven-step plan to transform the United Nations into an organization that will successfully foster peace and goodwill in all international relationships. [Bonus credit for providing a major role for two of the following nations: Dominica, Liechtenstein, Tuvalu.]
AGRICULTURAL SCIENCE: Outline the steps involved in breeding your own super high yield, all weather hybrid strain of wheat. Describe its chemical and physical properties and estimate its impact on world food supplies. Construct a model for dealing with world-wide surpluses. Draft your Nobel Prize acceptance speech.
PHYSICS: Explain the nature of matter. Include in your answer an evaluation of the impact of the development of mathematics on astronomy, botany and numismatics. [Bonus Credit: write today’s date in metric.]
PHILOSOPHY: Sketch the development of human thought, estimate its significance. Compare with the development of any other kind of thought. Be sure to include an analysis of the influence exerted on philosophy by Diogenes the Cynic.
CREATIVE WRITING: Compose an epic poem based on the events of your own life in which you see and footnote allusions from T.S. Eliot, Titus Lucretius Carus, Miguel de Cervantes, Dante Alighieri, Þorbjörn Hornklofi, Gilgamesh and Stephen King. Critique your poem with a full discussion of its syntax and metrics. [Bonus Credit for writing alternating stanzas between free and rhyming verse.]
EDUCATION: Formulate an examination which accurately measures an individual’s comprehensive knowledge base without cultural or linguistic prejudice. Limit the question parameters to what can reasonably be covered during a four hour testing block.
LITERATURE: Discuss in detail at least three major literary figures from each of the following civilizations: the Xia Dynasty, the Akkadian Empire, the Mayan Empire, the Aksumite Empire, the Polynesian Tuʻi Tonga Empire, and nineteenth century United Kingdom. [Caution: failure to include J.R.R. Tolkien and/or C.S. Lewis will result in disqualification of your answer to this question.]
Congratulations on finishing the exam. You are encouraged to use any remaining time to review your answers in light of the fact that grammatical errors and misspellings will significantly impact your final grade.
* You can download a personal copy of Guy Mannering, one of Sir Walter Scott’s Waverly novels, at Internet Archive.
If you should question the distinctions I noted between apes and monkeys, please know that the facts are genuine. However, for future examinations, you should be aware that not all monkeys have tails.
One honor that eluded C.S. Lewis during his distinguished life was the opportunity to represent the United Kingdom at the Olympics.
This would have been particularly satisfying during the XI Olympiad in Nuremberg. Fortunately, despite Lewis’ absence, America’s Jesse Owens was present to derail Hitler’s myth about so-called master races.
Actually, Lewis was a scholar, not an athlete. (Although the two can occasionally be combined.) The Olympics were not at the forefront of his concerns, a self-described dinosaur, immersed in the classics.
Nevertheless, a few interesting tidbits about the Olympics can be gleaned from Lewis’ published correspondence, which we shall consider forthwith.
Both of the following citations come from Volume 3 (1950-1963) of C.S. Lewis’ collected correspondence. In October 1955, Lewis responded to correspondence from I.O. Evans.
I return the article which interested me very much, for I have lately written a paper [“On Science Fiction”] on the same subject for an undergraduate society. I can’t send it, for it exists only in my own, almost illegible, MS. You seem to have dealt with the subject very well, and corrected some current errors.
I will certainly let you have a word about Olympic Runner when I have got round to reading it. You have no idea how little space for recreational reading there is in my life, and how long books have to stand in the queue.
Idrisyn Oliver Evans (1894-1977) book, Olympic Runner: a Story of the Great Days of Ancient Greece, was published in 1955. I have seen no evidence it made it to the front of C.S. Lewis’ queue.
On 16 November 1955, Lewis wrote to an acquaintance, Delmar Banner. Banner had created a likeness of Christopher John Chataway (1931-2014), who competed in the 1952 Olympics, and at one time held the world record in the 5,000 meters. Chataway had studied politics at Magdalen College in 1950.
Banner sought Lewis’ opinion on its accuracy. Lewis has to disappoint him, but does so in a friendly and encouraging manner.
Many thanks for your kind and encouraging card of the 15th; it is a great pleasure to me to know that anything I have written should be of help to the School [Pelham House]. Please give them all my best wishes.
I have never seen Chataway in the flesh, or even a profile photo of him, so can express no opinion of your portrait qua likeness; but even I, ignorant though I am on the subject, can admire the beauty and vigour of your drawing. I too hope that we may meet again.
Since I have uncovered so little information about Lewis’ thoughts on the Olympics, allow me to refer those who are interested to an article from Practical Theology.
This paper provides a theological analysis of modern professional sport, in particular the modern Olympic Games, in light of some of C.S. Lewis’s writings on pride and humility. This is prefaced with an analysis of the nature and character of ‘human competition’ in the sporting context and its potential positive and negative consequences.
We conclude by suggesting that the modern professional sports institution and the Olympic movement, while possessing many positive and enriching attributes, requires “wholesale spiritual rehabilitation” due in-part to both individual and national pride. However, we also believe that the modern Olympic Games that are characterized by passionate international sports competition, has many positive and life-affirming attributes and that there is hope of a lasting “legacy”, the prayer of Lord Coe [chair of the London 2012 Olympics Organising Committee]!
The essay is well worth a read, particularly as the latest Olympiad is matching global champions. The authors include a timely caution, lest we over-idealize the winners and add them to a pantheon of “modern sporting demi-gods.”
Some antiques boast lovely patinas. Some old words do, as well. In fact, I would argue the legacy of, and the deep respect for, the Oxford fellowship known as the Inklings, has created a rich patina of its own.*
The community gifted scholars, especially in the persons of J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, accrued a reputation that continues to gain a deeper luster with each new generation.
When I was a young man, I collected American coins. I also studied what Americans call “World coins.” The latter reinforced my love for geography as well as history.
To me, the most fascinating period of history has long been that of the Roman empire.
So you can imagine my awe when I learned how simple it was to collect genuineRoman coins.
This remains true today for common coins, such as bronzes of the fourth century (when the first Christian emperors reigned). This article describes “Collecting Roman Coins on a Budget.”
A surprising number of ancient coins, all readily identifiable and of historical interest, can be acquired for less than $100—and often in the $5-to-$25 range. This is especially true with Roman coins . . .
When I began collecting ancient coins, I learned the multifaceted meaning of a word unfamiliar to me at the time. That word was “patina” (pə’tēnə). As you probably know, it literally refers to the green or brown film (not rust) that appears on bronze and other metals under suitable conditions over a period of time. A handful of coins in my collection possess stunning patinas.
Many people are also acquainted with the figurative use of the word, as I employed it in my introduction It refers to an appearance or impression of distinction or luster associated with a person, idea or object. It is often linked to esteem held for the past. The following provocative quote comes from a contemporary Swiss artist.
“Life is one long decay, no? There’s a lot of beauty in it. Like the patina in an old city” (Urs Fischer).
Chad Walsh applied it to one of C.S. Lewis’ early books in The Literary Legacy of C.S. Lewis. Writing more than forty years ago, in a discussion of Pilgrim’s Regress, he said:
Regress has permanent value. It is, first of all, a spiritual autobiography, no matter how much Lewis may wish to minimize the personal quality of the quest and make his John into a potential Everyman. . . .
The Regress is already taking on a patina of age, a pleasant chronological quaintness, but time does not render it obsolete.
Four decades after he offered this comment, I believe I am correct in ascribing a warm patina to the Inklings as a fellowship.
Patinas can be added to items, to affect a more aged appearance. While “acquired” patina is always considered desirable, “applied” patina is often quite acceptable. It does not become problematic until the application is used to intentionally misrepresent the age of an item. An example of the proper use of applied patina is seen in these modern busts of C.S. Lewis.
In reviewing Lewis’ writings, I only uncovered one occasion where he used the concept of patina. It occurred in a 1946 letter to his friend, Ruth Pitter. Lewis is contributing to one of their ongoing conversations.
The truth is that there are a great many different kinds of poetry and extreme roughness (or smoothness) evocative epithet (or plain statement), the metaphorical (or literal) the colloquial (or rhetorical) may all, in their place, rise to perfection. . . .
Once more, read Barfield on Poetic Diction.⁑ That is why Spender’s objection to the ‘willed quality’ in Milton seems to me so bats’-eyed. It is the glory of one kind of poetry to sound un-willed, as if it had dropped out of the sky like Blake or else arisen spontaneously in conversation like Donne.
But then it is equally the glory of another kind to sound willed: to sound as if one were watching, or even sharing, the building of a huge tower.
To demand that Milton should have the spontaneity of Catullus or Blake is like demanding that a King at his coronation or a celebrant approaching the altar should have the same charm as a child dancing in the waves. Don’t we want both: both frolics and rituals? At any rate I do. . . .
Of course you are very right about Patina–again see Barfield. No old French poetry got that peculiar Old-Frenchness which is to us part of the charm. Half the beauties of the Old Testament did not exist for the writers. I wouldn’t be too sure, though, that it is wholly a question of our ‘projecting’ qualities into the old lines.
Ending on a Numismatic Note
Although I have not actively collected coins for many years, I commend it as a rewarding pastime. Seven years ago⁂ I wrote a column about religious likenesses on coins, which included a moving poem written by C.S. Lewis. You can read it here.
While writing this column I came across some genuine Narnian coins that were minted in New Zealand. They are genuine in the sense that they possess actual face values for legal tender in the island nation, which minted similar coins in honor of Middle Earth.
In terms of Narnian coins which circulated in Narnia itself, I learned that you can purchase “coins” which were used as actual props “appearing” in the recent Chronicles of Narnia films.
For an Inkling cinema buff such as myself, deciding to grab one for my personal collection was a no-brainer.
* The writings of the Inklings have even enhanced the patina of Oxford itself. This is especially true for those who live “across the pond,” and will never journey to the city itself. In a succinct review of The Inklings of Oxford: C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and their Friends, one Aussie architect refers to the stately oxidation of the city’s copper, brass and bronze: Picturesque book of picturesque Oxford focusing on C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien and the elegant, much patina-ed Oxford environment that they lived in.” I imagine he would concur with my suggestion that the Inklings themselves also bear a splendid patina.
⁑ Owen Barfield dedicated this book to his good friend with the inscription: “To C.S. Lewis ‘Opposition is true friendship’”
⁂ Seven years of blogging does sound like a lengthy time, but it’s not long enough for even the best of posts to accrue a patina of their own.
Everyone has epithets, even though we’re probably not aware of most of them. Some might be unflattering, but we could be pleasantly surprised by positive descriptive phrases people associate with our names.
First, it’s necessary for us to clear the air. Although the modern usage of the word “epithet” is usually negative, that is not the sole—or even primary—use of epithet. Far from being derogatory, most epithets are affirming. That’s because “epithet” is derived from the Greek verb epitithenai which simply means “to put on.” Basically, an epithet is anything that’s added to a person’s name to distinguish them as a particular individual.
Let me offer a simple quiz. What common epithet is often linked to all of the following historical figures?
Charlemagne, King of the Franks Catherine, the Empress of Russia Peter, Tsar of Russia Alexander, the King of Macedonia Kamehameha I, King of Hawaii Constantine I, first Christian Emperor of Rome Frederick, King of Prussia Rhodri, King of Gwynedd
We can expand this list with several historical figures recorded in the holy Scriptures:
Herod, King of Judea Cyrus, Founder of the Persian Empire Darius, Third Shahanshah of the Persian Empire
Obviously, I provided far more options than necessary for you to discern the common epithet. Each of them is, of course, called “the Great.” (Bonus points to anyone recognizing Rhodri the Great; I assume only Mere Inkling’s Welsh readers will know who he was.)
If you think my list is lengthy, check out the wikipedia list of people referred to as “the Great.” And feel free to supplement it, if you recall someone they missed.
A common Christian epithet is “Apostle.” It’s not really a title, though it’s frequently used that way, especially when applied to the original fourteen.⁑ This Orthodox Christian website provides a list of early missionaries who earned the same epithet, including Patrick the Apostle to Ireland and Ansgar, the Apostle to the North.
Back to the Question
So, given that epithets can be neutral or positive, are you aware of any of yours? Our ten grandchildren are developing wonderful senses of humor. I’ve joked with them all ever since they were tiny. More than once they’ve called me their “Funny Grandpa.” That’s an epithet I can be proud of.
Back in my high school years, because I spoke with (assumed) authority on nearly any subject, a couple people called me the “Voice of Experience.” Which just reminded me—literally, as I was typing this—that back at my first active duty assignment, our wing commander publicly bestowed on me an epithet.
There at Reese Air Force Base we were conducting our very first Military Tattoo ceremony. Quite unexpectedly, after doing the yeoman’s work* in composing the lengthy ceremony, he selected me to be the emcee for the extravagant community event. The event flowed flawlessly. The next day, Colonel (later General) Lillard referred to me as the “Voice of Reese.” My wife was suitably impressed!
Now, I have no doubt I’ve accumulated a number of pejorative epithets during my life as well. The good thing about those though, is that people usually don’t share them to our face.
As for your own epithets, you might think of words that friends repeatedly use to describe you. If you’ve been called humble, trustworthy, brave, patient or witty by more than one person, you might be surprised to learn how many others associate that trait with you as well. Talented and smart are also common appellations from those who admire your your various skills or intellect. Sensitive is a nice epithet to own, although I confess it’s seldom applied to me.
Ruth Pitter, C.S. Lewis’ Friend
Pitter (1897-1992) was a highly regarded British poet. Living in artistic circles, it’s unsurprising that she describes her early life as “bohemian.” Bohemians tend to regard that epithet as admirable, while practical people such as myself consider it a negative term. Bohemian, of course, refers to “socially unconventional” behavior which may cover a multitude of alternative lifestyles.
Pitter, however, was also a friend of C.S. Lewis. And it was through his writings and their conversations that she became a Christian. In 1985, two decades after his death, she wrote,
As to my faith, I owe it to C.S. Lewis. For much of my life I lived more or less as a Bohemian, but when the second war broke out, Lewis broadcast several times, and also published some little books (notably The Screwtape Letters), and I was fairly hooked. I came to know him personally, and he came here several times. Lewis’s stories, so very entertaining but always about the war between good and evil, became a permanent part of my mental and spiritual equipment.
At one point in Lewis’ life he said although he was a confirmed bachelor, if he were to propose marriage, it would be to Ruth.
The two writers often critiqued one another’s works. In 1946, Lewis sent the following letter to Pitter. I reproduce the first half of it here not for its content per se, but because of its literary use of the word “epithet.” Presumably, seventy years ago its deprecatory usage had not gained dominance. (What strikes me as the most amazing thing about this letter, is the way in which the two share such a comprehensive knowledge that Lewis did not even need to cite the sources of the quotations to which he refers!)
Dear Miss Pitter–
Certainly a great many good lines have an epithet in them and depend principally on that epithet. But by no means all. Sometimes the work is done by a special use of a Noun:
multosque per annos sustentata ruet moles et machina mundi. (a)
how sweetly flows That liquefaction of her clothes. (b)
sometimes by a verb:
J’ai mendiee la mort chez les peuples sauvages (c) —where to get the effect one would almost have to translate “I have begged death as bread.” Or
Forever climbing up the climbing wave (d)
Though here something else, the “Figure” of repetition, comes in. Sometimes it turns on a Noun metaphorical:
Oh my America, my Newfoundland! (e)
Again and again it turns on Metaphor:
The expense of spirit in a waste of shame. (f)
That from the nunnery Of thy chaste breast. (g)
But I beneath a rougher sea And whelmed in deeper gulfs than he. (h)
But in all these there is something you may regard as equivalent to an epithet. There is another kind of poetry which seems to do it by simple statement:
Thou’ll break my heart, thou bonnie bird, That sings on yonder bough. (i)
Twenty days and twenty nights They went in red blood to the knee, And he saw neither sun nor moon But heard the roaring of the sea. (j)
No one will say that bonnie in the first or red in the second has much to do with the result. One might at a pinch say that the apostrophe to a bird in the first and the whole myth in the second are the same kind of thing as an epithet. But then there are still passages where the statement is of the most factual kind and yet (in its context) it is very poetry:
Ronsard me célébrait du temps que j’étais belle (k)
Fulsere quondam candidi tibi soles Cum uentitabas quo puella ducebat Amata tantum quantum amabitur nulla. (l)
Oh, and what about the chansons de gestes?
Roland is dead. God has his soul to Heaven (m) (Roland est mort. Dieux en ad l’anme aux cieulx)
Paien unt tort et Chestien unt dreit (Paynims [non-Christians] are wrong and Christians are right) (n)
The truth is that there are a great many different kinds of poetry and extreme roughness (or smoothness) evocative epithet (or plain statement), the metaphorical (or literal) the colloquial (or rhetorical) may all, in their place, rise to perfection.
And Finally, For Dessert
That was a lengthy quotation—particularly for readers who don’t thrive on poetry or literary criticism. Here, however, is a delightful use of the word epithet from C.S. Lewis’ youth. In a 1915 letter to his closest friend, Arthur Greeves, Lewis gently chides him for his application of an “impertinent epithet.”
It may be true that it is easier to assign music to people we know, than to conjure up people to fit the music, but I deny that anyone’s character is really unlike their appearance. The physical appearance, to my mind, is the expression and result of the other thing—soul, ego, psyche, intellect—call it what you will. And this outward expression cannot really differ from the soul.
If the correspondence between a soul & body is not obvious at first, then your conception either of that soul or that body must be wrong. Thus, I am “chubby”—to use your impertinent epithet, because I have a material side to me: because I like sleeping late, good food & clothes etc. as well as sonnets & thunderstorms.
* Yes, I’m consciously mixing my military metaphors. While I served as a USAF “airman,” the term yeoman is a junior Navy rating or rank (i.e. the people who do most of the work). ⁑ The original fourteen include Matthias, who replaced Judas, and Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles.
Sources for the citations in Lewis’ letter to Pitter: (a) Lucretius, De Rerum Natura: “The mighty and complex system of the world, upheld through many years, shall crash into ruins.” (b) Robert Herrick, “Upon Julia’s Clothes” (1648). (c) “I begged for death among the savages.” (d) Tennyson, “The Lotus-Eaters” (1833). (e) John Donne, Elegies, “To His Mistress Going to Bed” (c. 1595). (f) Shakespeare, Sonnet 129 (1609). (g) Richard Lovelace, “To Lucasta, Going to the Wars” (1649). (h) William Cowper, “The Cast-Away.” (i) Robert Burns, “The Banks o’ Doon” (1791). (j) Thomas Rymer and Queen of Elfland. (k) Pierre de Ronsard, Sonnets pour Hélène: “Ronsard would sing my praise at the time when I was beautiful.” (l) Catullus, Carmen: “Once the sun shone bright for you,/when you would go whither your sweetheart led,/she who was loved by me as none will ever be loved.” (m) The Song of Roland (12th century). (n) The Song of Roland.
Sand is a fascinating, and awe-inspiring, substance. It evokes a variety of reactions, depending on our personal histories and preferences. Some smile as they contemplate lounging on warm, smooth beaches. Others may grimace as they recall desert experiences where they struggled to remain hydrated, and sandy grit seemed to work its way into all those places it didn’t belong.
Some places have lots of sand. For example, 80% of Turkmenistan is covered by sand. And yet, this doesn’t stop them from wanting more! Turkmenistan determined theirs wasn’t appropriate for building a racing track, so they paid $1.3 million for British sand.
Turkmenistan is so stark that one of its main tourist attractions is a fiery crater on a barren landscape that is called the “Door to Hell.” National Geographic participated in an expedition which included a descent into the 100 foot deep inferno.
The idea of a nation of unending sand purchasing even more, brought to my mind a familiar verse from Coleridge’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” And recalling the relentless flames of their methane pit, inspired me to pen my own variation of that theme.
Water, water, every where, And all the boards did shrink; Water, water, every where, Nor any drop to drink. (Samuel Coleridge)
Sand, sand, everywhere, But not a grain to sell; Sand, sand, everywhere, A scorched foretaste of hell. (Robert Stroud)
Lewis and Irish Sand
It is no surprise to readers of Mere Inkling, that we can find a Lewisian connection to even something so inconsequential as rocks* which have been weathered and worn into small fragments.
Like most of us, Lewis encountered sand in a variety of settings. In the 1950s he made a trip to Donegal, where he noted its distinctive beaches.
My correspondence has lately been in much the same state as yours: that is, on coming back from a holiday in Ireland I found about 60 letters to deal with. I had a lovely time over there: the best part in Donegal, all Atlantic breakers & golden sand and peat and heather and donkeys and mountains and (what is most unusual there) a heat wave and cloudless skies. Walks were much interrupted by blackberries: so big and juicy, and sweet that you just couldn’t pass without picking them.
To another friend, he wrote:
I was with a friend in Donegal which is a very fine, wild country with green mountains, rich secretive valleys, and Atlantic breakers on innumerable desolate sands.
But alas!, they get less desolate every year and it will soon be just a holiday resort like so many other places. (One always disapproves of all holiday-makers except oneself!)
Sand as a Metaphor
Everyone knows sand. That is especially true of the people who populated the lands of the Bible. From Ur to Egypt to Jerusalem, they encountered more than their share.
Because of its familiarity, and its unique traits, sand provides fertile soil [sorry] for producing metaphors. A couple, for example, from the Scriptures themselves.
[God speaking to Jacob] “I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore.” (Genesis 22:17)
[Description of the combined army facing the Hebrews in Canaan] “And they came out with all their troops, a great horde, in number like the sand that is on the seashore, with very many horses and chariots. And all these kings joined their forces . . .” (Joshua 11:4)
“How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! If I would count them, they are more than the sand.” (Psalm 139:17-18)
But sand is not simply used to illustrate multitudes or numbers.
“A stone is heavy, and sand is weighty, but a fool’s provocation is heavier than both.” (Proverbs 27:3)
[From a description of the Messianic Age] “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy. For waters break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water . . .” (Isaiah 35:7)
[God declares his power] “Do you not fear me? declares the Lord. Do you not tremble before me? I placed the sand as the boundary for the sea, a perpetual barrier that it cannot pass; though the waves toss, they cannot prevail; though they roar, they cannot pass over it.” (Jeremiah 5:22)
[Jesus said] “Everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand.” (Matthew 7:26)
C.S. Lewis’ Use of Sand as a Metaphor
In Mere Christianity, Lewis alludes to Jesus’ words when he says even the best human beings will disappoint. Only the trust placed in Christ will never disappoint.
We must go on to recognise the real Giver. It is madness not to. Because, if we do not, we shall be relying on human beings. And that is going to let us down. The best of them will make mistakes; all of them will die. We must be thankful to all the people who have helped us, we must honour them and love them.
But never, never pin your whole faith on any human being: not if he is the best and wisest in the whole world. There are lots of nice things you can do with sand: but do not try building a house on it.
In Surprised by Joy, Lewis explains his concept of Joy and how it relates to longing for heaven and being in the presence of God. In his description of how flashes of wonder grace our lives, he warns we should not confuse them with the ultimate joy for which we yearn.
I saw that all my waitings and watchings for Joy, all my vain hopes to find some mental content on which I could, so to speak, lay my finger and say, “This is it,” had been a futile attempt to contemplate the enjoyed.
All that such watching and waiting ever could find would be [merely] an image . . . I knew now that they were merely the mental track left by the passage of Joy—not the wave but the wave’s imprint on the sand.
A final example comes from Lewis’ under-appreciated Pilgrim’s Regress. One of the archetypal characters, Mr. Savage, attempts to waylay young Christian from following the Landlord (i.e. God).
“But as [belief in the Landlord] is not true, there remains only one way of life fit for a man.” This other way of life was something he called Heroism, or Master-Morality, or Violence. “All the other people in between,” he said, “are ploughing the sand.”
Plowing the sand is an ancient idiom. And its meaning is fairly evident, even to those encountering it for the first time. An online dictionary says “ploughing the sand has been a proverbial image of fruitless activity since the late 16th century.” In truth, wasting one’s energies in this fruitless pursuit possesses far deeper roots.
In The Story of Troy, the author describes the efforts of Ulysses to avoid crossing the Aegean to fight a war for which he had forcibly argued. He feigned insanity to stay home.
[Ulysses] paid no heed, however, to the messages sent to him asking him to join the army at Aulis. Agamemnon resolved, therefore, to go himself to Ithaca to persuade Ulysses to take part in the expedition. He was accompanied by his brother Menelaus, and by a chief named Palamedes, a very wise and learned man as well as a brave warrior.
As soon as Ulysses heard of their arrival in Ithaca, he pretended to be insane, and he tried by a very amusing stratagem to make them believe that he was really mad. Dressing himself in his best clothes, and going down to the seashore, he began to plow the beach with a horse and an ox yoked together, and to scatter salt upon the sand instead of seed.
Fortunately for the great author, Homer, Ulysses’ ruse was exposed. And it was revealed in an act worthy of Solomon that gave dual meaning to the hero’s fruitless plowing of sand.
Palamedes, however, was more than a match in artifice for the Ithacan king. Taking Telemachus from the arms of his nurse, he placed the infant on the sand in front of the plowing team. Ulysses quickly turned the animals aside to avoid injuring his child, thus proving that he was not mad but in full possession of his senses. The king of Ithaca was therefore obliged to join the expedition to Troy.
It is my hope that you have found this post informative and entertaining . . . and that writing it does not constitute my own example of plowing the sand.
* Most sand was originally rock, although some beaches are predominantly composed of other materials. Many beaches are “almost entirely composed of worn down dead animal bits.” White sand beaches often have a different source, parrotfish excrement.
Parrotfish eat the algae that grow on coral. [Their] large, beak-like teeth (which inspire their name) help them break off and eat small pieces of coral. They have another set of teeth, called pharyngeal teeth [that] grind up the coral into small grains of sediment, which parrotfish then excrete in clouds of white powdery sand. (A single large parrotfish can produce hundreds of pounds of sand a year!) The sediment is distributed onto the reef and, eventually, can pile up above the surface of the water, forming islands like the Maldives . . .
C.S. Lewis considered war a hated necessity in a fallen world. Emperor Constantine I, in contrast, did not shirk from waging violent conflict to reunite the Roman Empire in the early fourth century. What could these two men, humble and proud, have in common?
In a New York Times essay, “C.S. Lewis’s Legacy Lives on, and Not Just Through the Wardrobe,” Mark Oppenheimer compares their influence on the expansion of the Christian Church.
Who, since the time of Jesus and his apostles, has brought more people to Christianity than anybody else?
A short list would include the Roman emperor Constantine, who legalized Christian worship in 313, and Pope Urban II, who began the First Crusade in 1095. But it would also include C.S. Lewis, who moved more hearts with a pen than others have with armies.
Oppenheimer’s Jewish perspective is likely the reason Urban II (c. 1035-1099) finds himself on this short list. After all, the Crusades were intended to liberate the Holy Land from its Muslim conquerors. Other than a handful of the genuinely religious individuals who participated, no historian (much less any educated practicing Christian) would consider the Crusades an evangelistic enterprise.
As for the similarities between C.S. Lewis and Constantine, I am hard-pressed to find many. One, however, is common to many men throughout history. The influence of women in their lives was significant. This is true in terms of both their revered mothers, and their tenacious wives.
Women in Constantine’s Life
Constantine was the first Roman emperor to convert. Because he delivered the Church from persecution and favored the religion within the empire, he is regarded by the Orthodox Church to be a saint. His transitional reign, and the foundation of Constantinople, were monumentally important. But the violence experienced within the imperial family leaves disturbing questions that cannot be answered.
Constantine’s mother, Helena, was a true saint. She lived a devout life and did many good works. Doubtless, she also tempered the volatility of her son.
Constantine had four sons. The first was born to Minervina, a wife or official concubine about whom very little is known.* However, in 307 Constantine followed the common practice of marrying the daughter of a powerful ally, in this case the Augustus (Emperor) Maximian. This wife, Fausta, gave birth to three emperors who succeeded their father and proceeded to battle one another.
The first son, Crispus, was likely the most virtuous of them all. Unfortunately, however, Constantine heeded the lies of his step-mother, Fausta, and had Crispus put to death.⁑
The image of the Roman coins at the top of this column reveals official images of Helena and Fausta. Both of the women had, by the time these were minted, been honored with the title Augusta. The photograph comes from a detailed study of the coinage minted during Constantine’s Vicennalia, which marked the twentieth year of his reign. It features two coins of each, from different mints.
“For Helena,” that author notes, “the reverse always figures Securitas, and for Fausta, either Salus or Spes.” Roman personifications were not actually regarded as “gods,” except by the most superstitious. They were images intended to represent abstract qualities or values. Securitas represented Security with Salus and Spes representing Health and Hope, respectively. The inference here is that Helena represented the stability and authenticity of the dynasty, while Fausta represented its vitality and hope for the future, particularly as she nestles in her arms two future emperors.
Women in C.S. Lewis’ Life
For symmetry, we won’t discuss Minto here. Lewis’ mother and wife did, however, exert a great influence on the man he became. Whereas, with Constantine, one a saint, and the other a murderer, Lewis’ ladies both lived their Christian faith.
Flora Augusta Hamilton Lewis (1862-1908) was the daughter of an Anglican priest in Belfast. (By odd coincidence, her name included Helena’s regal title, Augusta.) Flora was quite gifted, and taught young Jack French and Latin. Her untimely death, during her boys’ childhood, left a last mark on both of them.
My father never fully recovered from this loss. Children suffer not (I think) less than their elders, but differently. For us boys the real bereavement had happened before our mother died.
We lost her gradually as she was gradually withdrawn from our life into the hands of nurses and delirium and morphia, and as our whole existence changed into something alien and menacing, as the house became full of strange smells and midnight noises and sinister whispered conversations. (Surprised by Joy)
Despite the great loss, life continued. Everyone eventually came to view Professor Lewis as a confirmed bachelor. Himself included. That is, until Joy Davidman entered his life. She turned his life upside down. Much has been written about their deep love for one another, and how well suited they were for each other.
Some have criticized Lewis for insensitivity to women. I consider this allegation utterly fallacious. Like all interpersonal relationships in this fallen world, bonds between (and within) genders are complex.
For those who consider Lewis’ personal outlook on male/female roles to be unenlightened, might I suggest you compare them to the example of any other man. Constantine perhaps?
* Minervina may have been Constantine’s wife, or official concubine. Since Crispus was regarded as a fully legal heir, the former is most likely. She may have already died before Constantine strengthened his political position with his second marriage.
⁑ The most probable account is that Fausta falsely accused Crispus of molesting her. After mercilessly condemning his own son, Constantine learned of the deceit and had Fausta executed as well. Crispus already held the rank of Caesar, and was heir apparent to his father. The story is extremely complicated, and heartbreakingly tragic.
If you don’t know the meaning of “hamartia,” you’re not alone. But it’s a very important word, for more than one reason, so read on.
Hamartia describes a feature many writers of fiction or drama instill in their most memorable characters. It simply means “tragic flaw.” The deep character defect which cannot be overcome by sincere intention or persistent effort.
Aristotle introduced the term in the Poetics to describe the error of judgment which ultimately brings about the tragic hero’s downfall. As you can imagine, the word is most often found in literary criticism.
However, news writers occasionally employ the word when discussing the unexplainable misfortune or missteps of übercelebrities regarded as immortal gods and goddesses before being felled by their own shortcomings.
Despite being a thespian in high school, I never formally studied drama. So I didn’t encounter the word there.
Likewise, I have written consistently since earning a Journalism degree four decades ago. However, since I have a 37:1 nonfiction to fiction ratio, I did not know this Greek word had found its way into the English lexicon.
I was surprised to discover its English meaning in my usually-familiar word of the day email (from The Free Dictionary).
While I was unfamiliar with its English usage, I already knew the word. I originally met hamartia (ἁμαρτία) while studying the New Testament in Greek. Hamartia literally refers to “missing the mark,” and it is the primary biblical Greek word for sin.
The first usage of the word in the sense of being an inner quality, occurs in Aristotle’s Poetics. Aristotle writing as a pre-Christian philosopher, naturally perceived the literary device in a pagan manner.
The Greek word hamartia translates pretty directly as “error” or “shortcoming” without any necessary overtones of guilt or moral failure. Our modern conception of tragedy and the “tragic flaw” of the hero usually involves the concept of hubris, or overweening pride, that leads to disaster.
Macbeth, for instance, has the arrogance to think he can overstep the laws of God and state, and ultimately pays dearly for this arrogance. Macbeth is a tragic hero with a clear tragic flaw: his downfall results from a moral failing and can be seen as divine retribution proportional to his guilt. But Macbeth also contains heavy Christian overtones that would of course be found nowhere in Greek tragedy.
An understanding of Aristotle’s concept of hamartia—and indeed an understanding of Greek tragedy in general—relies on an understanding of the ethics and cosmology of the ancient Greeks. . . . Greek ethics are based more on the notion of virtue than obligation.
What of the Consequences?
In a 2014 article entitled “C.S. Lewis: The Anti-Platonic Platonist,” Grace Tiffany skillfully explores the Platonic echoes in Lewis’ writings. In discussing his literary examples of human failings, she writes:
There are of course Biblical models justifying Lewis’ “negatively capable” presentations of misguided characters . . . An older philosophical source, if not a Platonic one, also justifies mimetic representations of evil by the argument that these are morally purgative.
Imitations of hamartia, or tragic error, produce “fear and pity” (Aristotle, Poetics 1453b)—compassion for the character elicited by a skilled simulation of his psychology, naturally accompanied by a healthy fear of ourselves making similar mistakes. What ensures the fear is, of course, the dramatization of the horrible end to which hamartia has led . . . (Christianity and Literature 63.3).
In 1953, C.S. Lewis wrote to a correspondent that sin was more than merely making a mistake. In doing so, he alludes to the change in the meaning of the word ἁμαρτία.
No. I don’t think sin is completely accounted for by faulty reasoning nor that it can be completely cured by re-education. That view has, indeed, been put forward: by Socrates and, in the early 19th Century, by Godwin.
But I think it overlooked the (to me) obviously central fact that our will is not necessarily determined by our reason. If it were, then, as you say, what are called ‘sins’ would not be sins at all but only mistakes, and would require not repentances but merely correction.
Returning to the literary or dramatic definition of hamartia as a tragic flaw, it seems to me that this term offers a fitting parallel to the word sin.
Ever since humanity’s fall, we suffer the curse of bearing original sin, a tragic flaw. It is a scar that no medical or psychological treatment can cure and no amount of determination can repair. This tragic flaw will be our doom. Unless, that is, there is One who is capable and desirous of restoring us to our original health and purity. One, perhaps, in whose own image you and I were created . . .
This wonder is something well worth pondering—and perhaps one day, writing about.
This book belongs in the library of every fan of the Inklings and each devotee of King Arthur. The truth is that anyone interested in British literature or the Dark Ages will find much that appeals to their curiosity. King Arthur is known around the world as an archetypal hero, and he was a central fixture in the minds of the Inklings.
The Inklings & King Arthur (TIKA) is impressive in every way. However, it’s 555 rich pages should not intimidate potential readers. Editor Sørina Higgins masterfully gathered diverse insights from a score of scholars, and the individual chapters can be approached in any manner the reader desires. Even if a few of the chapter titles fail to resonate with a particular reader, the solid value of the remainder far exceed the price of the work.
Mere Inkling seldom offers reviews of books, despite the “libraries” of new Inkling literature published every year. The Inklings & King Arthur is the exception, for two reasons.*
TIKA does not require a familiarity with its subject. The academic background of the contributors allows them to usher readers into rewarding discussions without additional research. C.S. Lewis described “the task of the modern educator [as] not to cut down jungles, but to irrigate deserts.” The writers in this volume have written so clearly that even if your knowledge of King Arthur is the Mojave, and your familiarity with the Inklings is the Sahara, you will enjoy reading this book.
Truth be told, much has been written about King Arthur. Likewise, films have explored the myths, with varying degrees of faithfulness. Some make no effort at all to be faithful to the inspiring story. An extreme example would be the ludicrous storyline of the 2017 film, Transformers: The Last Knight. In striking contrast to this, the Inklings sought to penetrate the mists of time and discern the reasons Arthur’s story has inspired men and women for so many generations.
In the book’s introduction, Higgins says her hope was “to fill a sizeable hole in the field of Inkling studies” (2). She surely achieved this task. She also says “the present collection endeavors to usher the field of Inklings studies into more rigorous theoretical territory” (3). This goal, the contributors have surpassed.
Proceeding to some specific comments, my first would be to point out the accuracy of the volume’s title. It is an exploration of “the Inklings,” rather than simply Lewis and/or Tolkien. The fact that less well-known members of the literary group wrote the most Arthuriana means their works are particularly well represented in the current collection.
This fact might discourage a potential reader who is disinterested in the lesser known authors. However, the truth is, exposure to work of these friends and influencers of the two über-Inklings helps us better understand them and the confluences that flowed together in that unique literary fellowship.
Most articles consider the Inklings as group in relationship to a theme. For example, Christopher Gaertner discusses, “Shape and Direction: Human Consciousness in the Inklings’ Mythological Geographies.” The author identifies their differing viewpoints and how they influenced one another. Despite “their shared resistance to a scientistic worldview” (150), Tolkien, Lewis and Owen Barfield did not share identical understandings of how the world should be perceived.
Beyond the Eagle & Child
One pleasant surprise is the inclusion of an essay on G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936). Chesterton’s The Everlasting Mancontributed to the conversion of C.S. Lewis.
In his TIKA essay “All Men Live by Tales,” J. Cameron Moore reveals how Chesterton’s poetry about Arthur is rooted in England. Arthur was important enough for Chesterton to return several times to the story of this hero who is “Mythic, Roman, and Christian (205). You can download a free copy of The Ballad of St. Barbara which includes “The Myth of Arthur” here. You can read “The Grave of Arthur” at this site.
Benjamin Shogren explores the significance of the addition of two new names—Pendragon and Fisher-king” to the protagonist of C.S. Lewis’ space trilogy. Elwin Ransom“represents Arthur by . . . evoking the primary imagery associated with the role of Arthur” (399). Ransom is now imbued with a mythological aura of royal leadership and courageous chivalry.
This volume overflows with richness. In “On Fairy Stories,” J.R.R. Tolkien describes the dense blend of mythologies present in the story of Arthur, using the image of a pot of soup with various ingredients added over time.
It seems fairly plain that Arthur, once historical (but perhaps as such not of great importance), was also put into the Pot. There he was boiled for a long time, together with many other older figures and devices, of mythology and Faerie, and even some other stray bones of history (such as Alfred’s defence against the Danes), until he emerged as a King of Faerie.
The situation is similar in the great Northern “Arthurian” court of the Shield-Kings of Denmark, the Scyldingas of ancient English tradition. King Hrothgar and his family have many manifest marks of true history, far more than Arthur; yet even in the older (English) accounts of them they are associated with many figures and events of fairy-story: they have been in the Pot.
The soup or stew pot may also serve as a fitting metaphor for The Inklings & King Arthur. This exceptional volume offers a potent mix of wisdom and insights that go beyond the boundaries of its title. Readers will be rewarded, in fact, with many satisfying literary meals.
* The first reason is that the academic weight of the work merits the undertaking. The second is because I have received a review copy, which obligates me in a sense, to providing a review—not a positive review, of course, but an honest assessment of its value, from my personal perspective.
Honest reviewers, of course, are mandated to acknowledge the fact that they received a particular volume gratis. This is done to protect one’s integrity. At the same time, a writer’s honor is also protected by their pledge to provide an honest evaluation of each work, for good or ill. This is what you will discover here.
The volume’s editor, Sørina Higgins, gathered an impressive group of Inkling scholars to contribute. She is a poet who is Chair of Language and Literature at Signum University.
It would be challenging to find any flaw in this amazing volume. Its sole weakness, in this reviewer’s opinion, is that it is so detailed and thorough, that it transcends the reading skills (or perhaps, “tastes”) of some of today’s readers. Despite that, the authors have gone to significant effort to write clearly and make their extremely detailed subject matter accessible to all.
Who among us has lived a life free of typographical errors? When we learned to type (or “keyboard”), our typing speed was influenced by the number of incorrect characters we included.
Even worse, some infernal source birthed the idea of “autocorrect,” which is occasionally useful for documents, but just as frequently deadly for emails and texts.
Lewis’ own books have included a number of typographical errors. Arend Smilde, a Dutch scholar and translator, has noted a fair number of them on his valuable website.
The truth is, it is possible for errors to creep in whenever original manuscripts are copied.
Even with the Scriptures, existing manuscripts include various minor variations, since the autographs have been lost to history.
This fact necessitates the need for “textual criticism,” and many earnest biblical scholars have devoted their lives to discerning the original text. (“Criticism” in this use, does not connote negativity. It simply refers to study, such as with “literary criticism.”)
Textual criticism diverges significantly from the so-called “higher criticisms” which frequently result in confusion and doubt.* Comparing actual texts is fundamental to the study of all literary creations.
C.S. Lewis wrote a brilliant essay entitled “Modern Theology and Biblical Criticism,” which is currently known as “Fern-Seed and Elephants.” In it, he distinguishes between the various types of criticism and affirms textual examination as utterly valid.
We think that different elements in this sort of theology have different degrees of strength. The nearer it sticks to mere textual criticism . . . the more we are disposed to believe in it. And of course, we agree that passages almost verbally identical cannot be independent. It is as we glide away from this into reconstructions of a subtler and more ambitious kind that our faith in the method waivers; and our faith in Christianity is proportionally corroborated.
The sort of statement that arouses our deepest scepticism is the statement that something in a Gospel cannot be historical because it shows a theology or an ecclesiology too developed for so early a date. For this implies that we know, first of all, that there was any development in the matter, and secondly, how quickly it proceeded.
When books are published, errors slink in. This generates errata, which are presumably corrected in any subsequent editions of the work. (It dawns on me that I’ve never seen an erratum, noting there is only one mistake in the work.)
The Genesis of Today’s Thoughts
Curiously, the article that led me to think about textual errors involves the substitution of an i for an e. The result is that for centuries, people mistakenly believed that Rome had a “Little Temple of Ridicule.” The notion was that the ancient Romans so loved humor, that they “went so far as to erect a ridiculi aedicula, or chapel of laughter.” This curious article is well worth reading (hint: it has something to do with Hannibal’s retreat).
It’s not that the idea of humor shouldn’t be celebrated. On the contrary, laughter features broadly in C.S. Lewis’ works. In a letter written shortly after his marriage to Joy, he alludes to Dante’s portrait of heaven. It is an image Lewis affirmed, and one that I happily anticipate.
Of course Heaven is leisure (“there remaineth a rest for the people of God”): but I picture it pretty vigorous too as our best leisure really is. Man was created “to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”
Whether that is best pictured as being in love, or like being one of an orchestra who are playing a great work with perfect success, or like surf bathing, or like endlessly exploring a wonderful country or endlessly reading a glorious story—who knows? Dante says Heaven “grew drunken with its universal laughter.”
* For an informative discussion of the different forms of criticism, see this conversation. In response to the question “How is it, then, that the Higher Criticism has become identified in the popular mind with attacks upon the Bible and the supernatural character of the Holy Scriptures?” the author writes:
Some of the most powerful exponents of the modern Higher Critical theories have been Germans, and it is notorious to what length the German fancy can go in the direction of the subjective and of the conjectural. For hypothesis-weaving and speculation, the German theological professor is unsurpassed.
Some of the men who have been most distinguished as the leaders of the Higher Critical movement in Germany and Holland have been men who have no faith in the God of the Bible, and no faith in either the necessity or the possibility of a personal supernatural revelation.