Michaelmas: The Feast of St Michael and All Angels

David Russell Mosley

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Ordinary Time
Michaelmas
The Edge of Elfland
Hudson, New Hampshire

Dear Friends and Family,

Another Michaelmas is before us and while I haven’t time at the moment to write a new post, I couldn’t let the feast day that actively reminds us of angelic realities pass by without comment. So, below you will find a series of letters I’ve written over the years on angels. I pray they will awaken you to the deeper realities all around us.

Angels and Demons: On the Cosmic Reality and Theological Importance of Angelology and Demonology

Unspoken Sermons: Christ the King: Angels and Poverty

A Vision of Angels: Given on the Fifth Sunday after Trinity

Happy Michaelmas: Celebrating the Reality of Angels

Sincerely,
David

Angels and Demons: On the Cosmic Reality and Theological Importance of Angelology and Demonology

David Russell Mosley

Ordinary Time
Feast of St Bernard
The Edge of Elfland
Hudson, New Hampshire

Dear Friends and Family,

Several things have aligned in my life to bring me to this letter. The first is my annual re-read of C. S. Lewis’s Cosmic Trilogy (Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength). I’m currently in the beginning of Perelandra. The second is what re-reading this always leads me to, this interview with John Milbank, here’s a textual reproduction of the most important part. The third was this post, “Have We Made Satan too Powerful” by my friend Adam Tomlinson. Since I’ve written on the others before, I’ll give a quick summary of Adam’s post.

Adam, rightfully, reminds us that Satan is not as powerful as God. In short, he reminds us that we are not gnostics. We don’t believe in co-eternal and co-powerful gods of good and evil. Therefore, when we act like Satan is directly attacking us, or our church, or our small group we may very well be giving him too much power, namely omnipresence since others are saying the exact same thing in completely different parts of the world at the same time. Nevertheless, as Adam admits, just because it isn’t Satan himself does not mean that it isn’t one of his followers (whether human or demonic).

What I have often found, however, is that while many Christians, especially in the West (and particularly in Protestant churches, though Catholics and Orthodox can be confused on this as well), is that while we’ll readily admit the existence of Satan and the demons, angels aren’t something we particularly believe in or even think about. Now I’ve written to you about angels before, but there’s one thing I want to make perfectly clear. Angels and demons are created beings.

It’s easy to forget that they are created since they are so different from us in some obvious ways. They don’t have bodies, or at least don’t have bodies like ours. While they can take shape, as Scripture makes very clear, they don’t seem to be corporeal in the way things we’re used to interacting with are. They aren’t like rocks or trees or animals, we don’t often see them (although that’s likely a problem with our sight) or sense them in any physical way. Yet I can say unequivocally that there is at least one angel with me now as I write this though I am not sensibly aware (as in I cannot see, hear, touch, taste, or smell it) of its presence. But it is here nonetheless.

What is more, that they are created means that they, like us (and everything else that exists), belong to the created order. What this means, in other words, is that angels belong to and exist in the created cosmos. Now, I don’t mean the universe when I say cosmos, at least not how we normally understand it. They aren’t in “space” (a rather inappropriate name for the beauty that lies beyond our atmosphere). They aren’t on some other planet or in some other solar system. Rather they are part of created existence itself. Therefore they, and their abode, namely heaven, are part of our cosmos and their reality, which is many ways more real than our own, often intersects with ours. It is for the reunification of their realm and ours that we look forward to. Supposedly (I’ve studied this somewhat and have found no ancient or medieval evidence of this), the ancient Irish and Welsh Christians believed in “thin” places, places where the boundary between heaven and earth is thinner than in others. I used to be rather infatuated with this idea. Now, however, I think thick is a better adjective. There are places in our world that thicker than others because our reality is filled with a greater reality, although a created one, nonetheless.

So, why is all this important? For this reason, if angels and demons belong to our cosmos, if they can and do interact with us, then we need to be aware of that and we need theologies that give proper space to these beings. According to the Scriptures (insofar as we can take these numbers literally) for every demon out there two more angels exist. This means that whenever we think about demons working to foil the plans of God’s kingdom and God’s people, there are more angels working, in one way or another, toward the consummation of God’s plan for all of reality.

The angels are also waiting for our deification. Theologians like Gregory of Nazianzus, Gregory of Nyssa, and Maximus the Confessor describe human beings as microcosms. In us comes together the material, the vegetable, the animal, and the rational. While the first three categories cover pretty much all created things that we typically experience here on earth the fourth is, along with a reference to God himself, a reference to the angels who are pure intelligences. This means there is something of rocks, trees, dogs, and angels in us. Christ infused into that nature the divine as well. Therefore, just as all lower creation awaits with longing the coming of the sons of God (deified humanity), so too does the higher creation, the angels and archangels and cherubim and seraphim. Their fate is tied to ours. And let’s not forget that Scriptures tell us “that we will judge angels?” (I Cor 6.3), which is presumably a reference to demons. Therefore we need more than a theology with only a mind of the terrestrial, we need a celestial theology as well. This is what people like John the Theologian, Dionysius the Areopagite, Maximus, and Thomas Aquinas, and all Christian mystics are constantly trying to tell us. We should really start listening.

Yours,
David

Unbearably Light: Reflections on My Sons’ Love of Light and an Unbearably Light Vision

David Russell Mosley

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Ordinary Time
St Cyril and St Methodius
14 February 2015
The Edge of Elfland
Hudson, New Hampshire

Dear Friends and Family,

Ever since we spent all that time in the hospital for Edwyn’s cancer treatment, I’ve been meaning to write this post. Tonight, another minor vision, more of a palpable sense than a vision, has finally been the impetus to do so.

I noticed it first when we were in our first room when the cancer treatment proper began. Both of my sons had an obsession. They loved to look at light. When the sun would pour in as it began to set. While we adults would shield our eyes, my sons soaked it in, preferring to look at what it illumined in contrast with what it did not. Shadows and light were their delights, often catching their attention. Little has changed in this regard. Now, however, rather than being merely content to watch light, they seek it out and attempt to grasp it. So often when the sun shines (and it almost always the sun or a reflection of it that they are attracted to, not artificial light) and lands on their highchair trays will they try to grasp it. Or when the sun is reflected off a watch or a phone or something similar they will gaze upward as it moves across the ceiling and the walls. It reminds me of a portion of one of George MacDonald’s fairy tales.

The whole fairy tale is ultimately about light and the love of light in its varying shades. The story is about a witch who raises a boy and girl, quite separately from one another. The girl knows only night and the boy only day from infancy. While both have an obsession with light, the girl’s is stronger. She falls in love with the moon, her lamp as she calls it, and is confused when it is gone one day. So she decides to go in search of it:

‘She followed the firefly, which, like herself, was seeking the way out. If it did not know the way, it was yet light; and, because all light is one, any light may serve to guide to more light. If she was mistaken in thinking it the spirit of her lamp, it was of the same spirit as her lamp and had wings. The gold-green jet-boat, driven by light, went throbbing before her through a long narrow passage.’

I’ve always been drawn by this passage. MacDonald gives us here a kind of participatory ontology (as he usually does, he is very much a Platonist). This little insect is thought of as made of light ‘it was yet light’ and also ‘driven by light’. Light is its being and yet is also its source and its power of motion. What is more, there is the light out of which the firefly is made is derived from a more ultimate, and in this story, unnamed Light. C. S. Lewis describes Christianity by comparing it to the sun. He believes in it not because he see it but because by it he can see everything else. All of this is, I believe, my sons’ love of light.

This brings me to tonight. Every night when we put our boys in their cribs, I sing them a lullaby; read them a bed time story; and pray for them. My prayer for my sons usually goes something like this: ‘Heavenly Father, be with my sons this evening. Send them your Holy Spirit to guide them and give them dreams and visions; send your angels to watch over them and protect them from the fears and dangers of the night. Blessed Virgin, watch over my sons as you watched over your own Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord.’ Tonight however, I was led to pray more. I began to feel an unbearable lightness. I could sense the saints and angels present with me in that room. So I prayer: ‘Saints and angels in this room, praise our heavenly king with me: Holy, Holy, Holy Lord, God of power and might, Heaven and Earth are full of your glory.’ I began to weep. The sense of their presence, of God’s presence through his created cosmos which includes the angels and the saints was unbearably light (God, as Dionysius would remind us, is full of these paradoxes).

Light has two meanings here: the radiance of a creature; and of little or no weight. Yet I think they are connected. For the light of the sun is unbearable, not because of its weight but because of its brilliance. While I saw no light during my prayer this evening, it was nevertheless brilliant and it was unbearable for a sinner such as me.

Sincerely yours,

David

Unspoken Sermons: Christ the King: Angels and Poverty (Mt 25.31-46)

David Russell Mosley

Ordinary Time
Christ the King
23 November 2014
The Edge of Elfland
Hudson, New Hampshire

Dear Friends and Family,

I have decided to begin a series of “unspoken sermons”, a title, if not an idea, I have stolen from George MacDonald. In truth, I am still in the process of discerning my vocation. Am I called to be an academic theologian, a theological priest, a poet, an author? I honestly don’t know. However, I know that of ultimate importance to me is the feeding of God’s flock, sacramentally, theologically, and spiritually. I will be “preaching” through the Gospel texts in the Revised Common Lectionary.

Matthew 25.31-46

In today’s Gospel reading we are reminded of a hard truth. We are called to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome strangers, care for the sick, and visit the imprisoned. It seems that it is at least partly on this basis that we will be judged when Christ returns. For some, this is an uncomfortable truth. We think of our salvation being conditioned on the choice to follow Christ, and of course, it is. Yet there is more to it. Remember, Christ tells us to pray for forgiveness in the same manner in which we show forgiveness to others. Well here, Christ reminds that our actions within this world, caring for the lowly, is caring for him and is a condition for being part of his flock. It may be a hard truth, but it is the truth nevertheless.

Now this passage seems rather pragmatic in focus. When Christ returns he will separate the wicked from the righteous. His standard of measurement will include righteousness toward the marginalised. Many would perhaps set the focus on the charitable part, that righteous acts are essential for one to have a life in Christ and stop there. Some, might choose instead to focus on the apparent reality of Hell by noting that there is a separation between the wicked and the righteous. Some might want to emphasise that righteous acts are an outflow of our life in Christ and not a condition for it. But there is yet another aspect that I wish to bring out, one that, I hope will tie together all the others.

The passage begins, “‘When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory.'” Those who know me well will know that I have something of an obsession with angels. Angels, for me, represent the enchanted aspect of the cosmos. They serve as reminders that the world of the senses is not all that there is, that another world upholds this world, is the foundation for this world. So there is a cosmic and enchanted aspect of this passage that I think we often miss since our general culture does not view the world this way. For many in our culture, the world is reducible to matter, to what we can see, feel, smell, hear, and taste. The worldview of the Scriptures of the church up to the late Middle Ages, is one of order and enchantment. Angels can come and break you out of prison as they did for Peter. Water can be turned into wine, as Christ did at Capernaum. Wine and bread can become flesh and blood. Churches can be truly sacred spaces where eternity and time meet in the liturgy. What, however, has all this to do with the rest of this passage, the feeding and caring for the poor and the oppressed?

Perhaps first and foremost it allows for a more literal reading of this passage, that is taking the words for what they say. Christ tells us that it is him we are feeding, clothing, warming, etc., when we do these things for the poor. In a sense that we cannot fully comprehend we are truly rendering these things to Christ himself insofar as he is actually present in the poor and oppressed. Second, the Scriptures are quite clear that angels serve many functions. One of those purposes is caring for, guiding, and guarding us. If the angels, who are so much higher than we are in our current state, care for us, how much more ought we to care for those who are human like us, fallen like us, and simply in poorer circumstances than ourselves. Third, and finally, the opening passage tells us that it is when Christ comes in glory and sits on his throne of glory that he will call us to account for the care of the poor. Clearly, therefore, the glory of Christ in part subsists in justice for the downtrodden. When all is made new, this will include the enrichment of the poor, and quite possibly the impoverishment of the rich. So the worldview evident in the opening passage of today’s reading is actually the foundation for our caring for the poor.  Today we celebrate Christ the King. In Christ’s Kingdom, there are to be no poor. To this we are called, so this we must do.

Go in peace, to love and serve the Lord.

Sincerely yours,
David

That Hideous Strength: The Cosmic and Enchanted Earth

David Russell Mosley

Ordinary Time
8 October 2014
The Edge of Elfland
Hudson, New Hampshire

Dear Friends and Family,

That Hideous Strength is perhaps often viewed as one of the strangest and weakest of Lewis’s fictional books. It certainly makes little sense if we think of it as the culmination of a Space Trilogy since the entire book takes place on Earth. What’s more this book makes a sudden introduction of Arthurian mythology that is completely absent from the previous two. Some even criticise it for its portrayal of gender and male-female relationships (This however, is contested by Alison Milbank who seems to think Lewis get this more right than wrong. I don’t have a source for this as it is something she said in her class on Fantasy and Religion). And yet, for all of this, I cannot help but love this book.

It helps that I am something of a sucker for all things Arthurian. As evidenced by these posts. But even beyond this, Lewis does something very interesting on a cosmic level in this book. The book sets the tale of two protagonists, Jane Studdock and her husband Mark. Jane and Mark are still newly married, both academics, though she has put her work to the side for the time beings, finding it hard to return to it (she’s doing a PhD on Donne). Jane is troubled by dreams she’s having. She later finds out that she is a seer, that is, sometimes she dreams things that are currently happening. It’s important to note two things, first, Jane does not dream or predict the future. She is simply capable of dreaming the present. Second, Jane does not do this by calling upon spirits of any kind. It is, rather, hereditary. And it is this point that I find most interesting. Lewis has constructed a world where a human creature can, while asleep, ‘dream things true’ as Shakespeare wrote in Romeo and Juliet. In some ways, this is the epitome of an enchanted cosmos. Jane sees the present, and even more, she sees the present in a way that is useful to the Christians she eventually fully joins at the St Anne’s Manor. Lewis doesn’t make it obvious that these are visions given to Jane by God in say the way Daniel, Paul, John, or others have had visions. She isn’t seeing heavenly realities, but what she sees becomes guided by the influence the Director has over her. She is an enchanted human being, with a native ability that is intended for good uses, but can be turned to evil.

However, the enchantment runs even deeper than this. When Merlin is awakened or brought back into time, what his state was before his reanimation is uncertain, he is ravenous to reconnect with the rocks, fields, and trees around him. But he isn’t allowed to. The Director, the current Pendragon, will not allow him, it is no longer, according to God it would seem, acceptable. Nevertheless, the Director himself has the ability to tame animals in a way no other human can. Mice come at his beck and call to clean up crumbs; a bear lives with them (along with a few other animals); they have a garden, which doesn’t seem to have any particularly enchanted properties to it (not like the animals do), but living within nature does seem to be an integral aspect of their lives at St Anne’s. In fact, the garden growing, animal raising people of St Anne’s are contrasted with the N.I.C.E. and their desire to denature the Earth.

On the Angelic end of things, which has been the focus of the previous two letters in this series, there is decidedly less and more. Because the lens through which we see the world is the uninitiated Jane, rather than Ransom himself, encounters with the angelic are terrifying. There is a scene where Ivy, a member of the group at St Anne’s is reflecting on the Director’s encounters with angelic beings behind the planets (the wanderers) in the cosmos. ‘“Do you know,” said Ivy in a low voice, “that’s a thing I don’t understand. They’re so eerie, those ones [angels] that come to visit you. I wouldn’t go near that part of the house if I thought anything was there, not if you paid me a hundred pounds. But I don’t feel like that about God. But he ought to be worse, if you see what I mean.” “He was, once,” said the Director. “You are quite right about the powers. Angels in general are not good company for men in general, even when they are good angels and good men. It’s all in St. Paul. But as for Maledil Himself, all that changed: it was changed by what happened at Bethlehem.”’ Lewis does something I can’t quite fully account for here. Throughout the series, he has somewhat acted as though Earth, Thulcandra, the Silent Planet were purely under the sway of Satan and that the other Oyarsa cannot enter it, and that its own eldila are not always on our side (even if they aren’t always against us). This makes little sense when compared with Scripture where throughout the Old Testament and Apocrypha angels not only appear but aid humanity in obvious ways. In the New Testament, they fade somewhat behind the glory of Christ, but are still present. Perhaps, however, what Lewis is doing here is distinguishing between the hierarchies. Those great beings who guard and move the planets cannot enter into ours easily and are bad company for us, but those who are intended to work directly with us are not as bad company for us. Still, though, it is clear that we are meant to commune directly with God and not simply through the angels.

In the end, what That Hideous Strength gives us is the cosmic come home. The grand movements in the Fields of Arbol (Lewis’s “Old Solar” for the Cosmos) are affected by and affect what happens on Earth, not in an astrological way, but because the whole Cosmos, created and upheld by God, is also governed by his created beings and all of it is tending toward one end. It is all tending toward the overcoming of the world with the Kingdom of Heaven, of the overcoming of Britain with the kingdom of Logres. Let me leave you with the discussion of Logres in That Hideous Strength, keeping in mind that this discussion not only applies to every nation, but to the whole cosmos.

‘“It all began,” he [Dr Dimble] said, “when we discovered that the Arthurian story is mostly true history. There was a moment in the Sixth Century wen something that is always trying to break through into this country nearly succeeded. Logres was our name for it––it will do as well as another. And then … gradually we began to see all English history in a new way. We discovered the haunting.”

‘“What haunting?” asked Camilla.

‘“How something we may call Britain is always haunted by something we may call Logres. Haven’t you noticed that we are two countries? After every Arthur, a Mordred; behind ever Milton, a Cromwell: a nation of poets, a nation of shopkeepers: the home of Sidney––and of Cecil Rhodes. Is it any wonder they call us hypocrites? But what they mistake for hypocrisy is really the struggle between Logres and Britain.”

….

‘“It was long afterwards,” he said, “after the Director had returned from the Third Heaven, that we were told a little more. This haunting turned out to be not only from the other side of the invisible wall. Ransom was summoned to the bedside of an old man then dying in Cumberland. His name would mean nothing to you if I told it. That man was the Pendragon, the successor of Arthur and Uther and Cassibelaun. Then we learned the truth. There has been a secret Logres in the very heart of Britain all these years: an unbroken succession of Pendragons. That old man was the seventy-eighth from Arthur: our Director received from him the office and the blessings; tomorrow we shall know, or tonight, who is to be the eightieth. Some of the Pendragons are well known to history, though not under that name. Others you have never heard of. But in every age they and the little Logres which gathered around them have been the fingers which gave the tiny shove or the almost imperceptible pull, to prod England out of the drunken sleep or to draw her back from the final outrage into which Britain tempted her.”

….

‘“So that, meanwhile, is England,” said Mother Dimble. “Just this swaying to and fro between Logres and Britain?”

‘“Yes,” said her husband. “Don’t you feel it? The very quality of England. If we’ve got an ass’s head, it is by walking in a fairy wood. We’ve heard something better than we can do, but can’t quite forget it … can’t you see it in everything English––a kind of awkward grace, a humble, humorous incompleteness? How right Sam Weller was when he called Mr. Pickwick an angel in gaiters! Everything here is either better or worse than––”

‘“Dimble!” said Ransom….

‘“You’re right, Sir,” he said with a smile. “I was forgetting what you have warned me always to remember. This haunting is no peculiarity of ours. Every people has its own haunter. There’s no special privilege for England––no nonsense about a chosen nation. We speak about Logres because it is our haunting, the one we know about.”

‘“Aye,” said MacPhee, “and it could be right good history without mentioning you and me or most of those present. I’d be greatly obliged if anyone would tell me what we have don––always apart from feeding pigs and raising some very decent vegetables.”

‘“You have done what is required of you,” said the Director. “You have obeyed and waited. It will often happen like that. As one of the modern authors has told us, the altar must often be built in one place in order that the fire from heaven may descend somewhere else. But don’t jump to conclusions. You may have plenty of work to do before a month is passed. Britain has lost the battle, but she will rise again.”’

Let us be Logres in the midst of Britain.

Sincerely yours,
David

Heaven and Earth: The Re-Enchantment of the Cosmos

David Russell Mosley

Ordinary Time
20 September 2014
On the Edge of Elfland
Hudson, New Hampshire

Dear Friends and Family,

I want to take a brief brake from my letters on C. S. Lewis’s Cosmic Trilogy to bring to your attention two things I’ve seen today. The first is a video on the nature of heaven and earth I will share below. Please give it a watch (Hat Tip to Robin Parry at Theological Scribbles for posting this).

In this excellent little video we are reminded of two incredibly important things. The first is that at one time Heaven and Earth were united. At one time, perhaps, our world was not so unlike those depicted in either Malacandra or Perelandra. God and his angels, the whole order of being, was represented on Earth, were capable of being experienced by humanity in a more direct fashion. Then a split happens, Earth rejects heaven. The video then deftly points out that the temple will be come the primary locus on Heaven on Earth. However, what it fails to mention, probably due to lack of time, is that there seemed to be other pockets of Heaven on Earth, at least before the tabernacle and temple. Jacob in Bethel sees the ladder with the orders of angels ascending and descending; Moses finds himself by a bush that is burning but not consumed as is told that the ground beneath him is holy. In fact, the video fails to mention even in the divorce of Heaven and Earth, the divorce isn’t true, in a sense. The world cannot go on existing unless it participates in God. Nevertheless, the key here, is that the temple becomes the main sight where Heaven and Earth collide.

Then something new happens. A being from Heaven fully enmeshes himself in Earth. Not just any being, either but the Being, the source and font of all that we call being, the Son, the second person of the Trinity becomes a human without forsaking his divinity. Now, he himself is a pocket of heaven everywhere he goes and he begins to reclaim people and things for heaven. The people part is obvious, lost become found, blind regain sight, sinners are made saints. However, remember that Christ also transfigured water (both by turning it to wine and sanctifying it for baptism). Christ transfigures bread and wine into his body and blood in the Eucharist. Christ is, in a sense, revealing to us the true meaning and purpose of these worldly (and even manmade) objects. He makes them pockets of heaven.

But beyond even this, believers, and therefore the Church, become pockets of heaven, or thin places, if you like (often called a Celtic Christian idea, I can say that I spent roughly three years studying ancient Irish Christianity and never encountered the phrase thin places, but it is a useful metaphor). However, I want to suggest that there are still physical thin places; the most obvious of which are churches (that is the buildings). Traditionally, church buildings have been built theologically. Shape and design are given a theological meaning. Even more so, the medieval churches are filled with images (primarily images called icons in the Christian East), statues, and carvings to evoke Heaven. Angels surround the altar (what many Protestants call the communion table), depictions of the life and death of Christ and the saints are set in place, not merely to inspire or remind us of the stories.  They are there to draw our minds into Heaven which is present in that space, unlike how it may be present in others. Why? Because as the video noted concerning the death of Christ, the efficacy of that death (and the nature of that life) is repeated in the sacraments. Preeminent of these is the Eucharist where we share in the body and blood of Christ, however conceived by celebrants and participants. This makes churches holy ground, thin places where Heaven and Earth collide.

This brings me to a blog post I read this morning. Robb Beck at “Sublunary Sublime” reminds us that the re-enchantment project in Christianity can become something of a purely intellectual notion at best and mere cliché at worst if we are not careful. He reminds us at the end of the short post, ‘Re-enchanting the universe is not some abstract idea, nor is it a simple intellectual task. It is a summons to face the enemy head on. As Fr. Steward Headlam once remarked, “it seems to me to be the duty of every minister of Christ to do all he possible can to stir up a divine discontent in the hearts and minds of the people with the evils which surround them.”’ This is, I believe, the natural conclusion of what I have outlined above. If the Earth is “enemy occupied territory” as C. S. Lewis calls it, then the Church and the churches are bastions of Heaven which send out Heavenlings to reclaim, to re-enchant a world gone dormant, a world lulled to sleep by the lying lullaby of the Enemy. And it is fitting that this all begins at the altar, at the recapitulation, the non-identical repetition of the Cross.

This is what it means to pray Thy Kingdom come, Thy Will be done on Earth as it is Heaven. This too, I would argue, is the significance of praying for our daily bread. That this bread represents true sustenance cannot be denied for what is more sustaining than the Bread of Life?

Sincerely yours,
David Russell Mosley

Lewis’s Cosmic Trilogy: Out of the Silent Planet and the Angelic

David Russell Mosley

St Monica’s Day 2014
The Edge of Elfland
Mapperley Park, Nottingham

Dear Friends and Family,

A few weeks ago I finished, for about the fourth or fifth time, reading C. S. Lewis’s Cosmic Trilogy. These unsung science-fiction novels from the creator of Narnia have captured my maturing imagination. These novels discuss themes of sin, perfection, incarnation, cosmology, evolution, marriage, gender, and more. If you haven’t read them, I hope you will after reading my panegyric of them.

The first thing that needs to be discussed is what to call these books as a set. Individually they are titled, Out of the Silent Planet (OSP), Perelandra: A Voyage to Venus (P), and That Hideous Strength: A Modern Fairy-Tale for Grown-Ups (THS). The two most common titles for the series are The Space Trilogy and The Ransom Trilogy. The first title is inappropriate because only the first two novels take us into space (before alighting us on Mars and Venus respectively). The second title is certainly more appropriate for each book tells us something about the Oxbridge-esque professor of philology Elwin Ransom. I’ll return to Ransom in a moment. While I find Ransom Trilogy a better collective title than Space Trilogy, I think Cosmic Trilogy a much better title.

Ransom appears in all three novels, but can only properly be called the primary protagonist of the first two novels. He is certainly a prominent figure in the final novel, but the protagonists are primarily the divided married couple Mark Studdock and Jane Studdock neé Tudor. However, each novel, whether in space/distant planets or our own as THS does, there is an undeniably cosmic theme in each novel. What Lewis is primarily presenting to us in The Cosmic Trilogy is the notion of a Cosmic (that is a created, ordered, and oriented toward a given end universe).

In OSP we are introduced to Elwin Ransom, an academic out on a walking holiday (something only possible when both homes and pubs were open to hikers, and the land was free to be walked upon), who stumbles on an old Cambridge enemy and his new partner (Richard Devine), a physicist of some renown (Dr Weston). Ransom, whose forename means elf-friend, is then drugged and shanghaied. The evil duo take him aboard their space ship in order to take him to be sacrificed, or so they assume, to the god of Malacandra, the natives’ name for Mars. As Ransom awakes on the spaceship, he is given an impression that space is the wrong name for the beauty in which the planets and stars swim. It is alive, not dead. Throughout Ransom’s adventures on Malacandra he introduced not simply to native inhabitants of Malacandra, but also creatures who can be said to be there and not there, creatures called eldila. On Mars, Ransom is introduced to two kinds of eldila (all of which have only a vague appearance to his human eyes, something akin more to light itself than anything else). The first kind are messengers, they bring announcements and summonses. The other kind of eldil Ransom meets has only one member on Malacandra. It is the chief, not simply of the other Martian eldila, but of the planets inhabitants, rational and irrational. What’s more this eldil, also called Oyarsa, governs the very movement of the planet itself. This goes back to the pagan notion of the planets being the gods to a certain extent, and the Christian notion that the planets have souls. In a thomistic/aristotelian kind of way, the oyarsa of Malacandra is the moving force and will behind the planet. However, unlike our souls, the oyarsa is not bound to the planet in the way our souls are knit into our bodies.

Lewis’s harkening back to this medieval understanding of the cosmos, is what draws me into these books more than anything else. The universe is alive; the spirits and other ethereal creatures that the Scriptures and the Tradition have told us are there are made present in Lewis’s depiction of the universe. What Lewis gives us is a universe that takes seriously the reality of angels (he does much more than this as well in his depiction of rational terrestrial, or in this case, Martian, who are impacted by what has happened on Earth). I will do some follow-up posts on this trilogy, focusing on the other two books. There are many intriguing features of Lewis’s Cosmic Trilogy. What I have focused on and will focus on in the follow up posts, however, is the cosmic and angelic.

If you have any questions or points you wish raise, please do. I will respond either individually or with a new letter.

Sincerely yours,
David