Lewis’s Cosmic Trilogy: Perelandra and the Cosmic Christ Event

David Russell Mosley

St John Chrysostom’s Day 2014
The Edge of Elfland
Hudson, New Hampshire

Dear Friends and Family,

In Lewis’s Perelandra, we get much less of the angelic. Perelandra, or Venus as we know it, is at the point of decision where Tellus before it had failed. Two rational creatures, in the shape––but not in any of the standard hues––of humanity, have evolved from a rather fishier biological background and have been separated. The woman, along with first meeting Ransom who has been sent there to aid the planet ward off the attacks of Satan, meets the tempter. This time, the tempter takes on the body of Dr Weston from Out of the Silent Planet. The book is made up primarily of these three characters: the Perelandrian Eve, Ransom, and the possessed Weston. Ransom and Weston thus battle not only for the Lady’s soul, but, in a way, for the whole planet. There are many interesting facets of this book. It can be read as a kind of suppositional commentary on Genesis 2 and 3. What fascinates me about it, however, is the cosmic level.

Lewis gives us a cosmos where the planets are ruled and governed by angelic beings, as I discussed in my last letter. Yet while Oyarsa was an ever present character, though unseen at first (and then only seen dimly when present), the eldila are unseen and mostly unknown on Perelandra (we later discover that at least the oyarsa of Perelandra is present, but more on that in a moment). What intrigues me is the way Lewis’s cosmos is connected. Too often, both in our real discussions of whether any potentially existent extraterrestrial beings or their depiction in science fiction focuses on the purely localised nature of the Christ event. We either assume that the extra terrestials would be damned by nature, in need of salvation, or at the very least, unaffected by what happened on Earth. Lewis challenges this. In Out of the Silent Planet, we have a world that is populated before humanity’s Fall, but during the angelic rebellion. Malacandra is thus peopled with creatures of varying shapes and sizes. Perelandra, however, gives us human shaped creatures. In fact, Ransom learns from the lady that there will be no more hrossa, no more sorns from here on out all rational creatures will come in the shape of a human. Why? Because Christ became human. While humanity’s fall did not cause the Fall of the entire Cosmos, it affected how the Cosmos would develop.

Earth becomes a step in the Cosmic dance that is tending toward the Beatific Vision. Both its Fall and its Redemption effect the direction of the rest of Cosmos. For a while, I was concerned about this. It seemed almost to make the Cross (and even the Incarnation) merely a reaction. The Oyarsa of Malacandra even tells Ransom that because Adam and Eve fell at this same point of decision, something greater (namely the Incarnation) happened there. Therefore, on Perelandra, what didn’t happen on Earth happened there instead. However, I was wrong to think this a reactionary view. By reactionary, I mean that God was surprised by the Fall and replied with the Incarnation, that is, plan A failed and so now it is time for plan B. Instead, however, Lewis gives us a cosmos where the Fall is not necessary, but is used to play an integral role in the development of the entire cosmos. It is the means by which the Son’s becoming human is, in some ways facilitated, but it is not a reaction, it is an eternal plan. It is necessary for the Son to become incarnate for all rational creatures, all ensouled creatures, are intended for deification, for the beatific vision. Thus, in Lewis’s cosmic vision, this is done on Earth, in part to combat the Fall, but in full to bring about the deification of all hanu (ensouled, rational creatures). It is for this reason, the Lord and Lady of Venus are human shaped yet green. It is for this reason there will be no more creatures like those seen on Malacandra. The Fall may have facilitated a need for incarnation, for we could not have been fittingly redeemed without it (not that we absolutely could not have been redeemed without it, but that is a letter for another day), but it is not the only reason for it. Rather, it’s ultimate purpose is to return the entire Cosmos, that is all of Creation, to God in deification. Christ’s becoming human has shaped the course of history, both tellurian and Cosmic.

In these first two books, Lewis’s Cosmic focus is extraterrestial. When I write about That Hideous Strength, we will see how Lewis takes this Cosmic understanding of the Universe and applies to the life lived on Earth. Until then, I remain,

Sincerely yours,
David

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The Importance of the 12 Days of Christmas

David Russell Mosley

Русский: Рождество Христово (икона в Храме)

Русский: Рождество Христово (икона в Храме) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

23 December 2013
On the Edge of Elfland
Beeston, Nottinghamshire

Dear Friends and Family,

Christmas is nearly upon us. Tomorrow evening, as we have our supper, however meagre or magnificent, the celebration of the Nativity begins. For most of us, it has probably already begun to some extent. We’ve probably indulged in a few Christmas songs; our churches have put on carol services. Everything is building up to the next day, the 25 of December, perhaps the only day in the Western Calendar (both secular and sacred) that still firmly has a name rather than a date. Wednesday morning will dawn, we’ll open presents, go to church (if it’s safe or if they’re holding services), perhaps we’ll sing carols, give hugs, we’ll laugh, in short, we’ll feast. And then, Christmas is over. Boxing Day, St Stephen’s Day in the Church Calendar, will come and perhaps we can find it in us to extend the festivities to this day, but by the 27, St John’s Day, Christmas is quite firmly over, isn’t it?

Actually, in the Church Calendar, there really are 12 days of Christmas. Depending on how you count it the twelve days run  from the 24 of December to the 5 of January. Either way, Christmas is more than a day or two, it is, in fact, a liturgical season. We are meant to extend both our celebrations and solemnities (particularly during Holy Innocents on the 28 which commemorates the children put to death by Herod). Christmas is meant to be much more than its feast day.

Think of what a change this could make in how you think of Christmas. Christmas parties can continue for twelve days. Christmas carols can be sung with gusto, especially if you’ve generally fasted from them during Advent. The reality of the Incarnation can continue to be at the forefront of our minds. Perhaps, if we in the West, were to take more seriously the twelve days of Christmas we might even begin to think about the larger implications of the Incarnation beyond the crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension of Christ. As I’ve written to you before, I work on the topic of deification. At the heart of this primarily Eastern doctrine is the Incarnation, God becoming human so that humans might become God. Maybe if we took Christmas a little more seriously, people like me wouldn’t need to convince Western Christians of the truth and beauty of deification, or as it is called in the East, theosis.

Christmas has always been my favourite time of year. The music, the movies, the weather (in the Northern hemisphere anyway), the carols, the services, Father Christmas, all come together for me to show forth the magic of Christianity. Beyond all of this, however, is the reality that our God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), the Creator of everything and yet Uncreated, became a creature  in the Son without ceasing to be Creator. He became a creature in order to lift us up, to make us like himself, to make us gods, to make us sons through the Incarnation, the gift of his Spirit, and the sacraments. This is what Christmas means, this is why we celebrate it for 12 days and not just one.

Sincerely yours,
David Russell Mosley

Books to Read over Advent and Christmas

David Russell Mosley

Third Sunday of Advent
15 December 2013
On the Edge of Elfland
Beeston, Nottinghamshire

Dear Friends and Family,

With only 10 days left in Advent, this may seem like an odd time to write a letter on books to read over Advent and Christmas, but since Christmas is 12 days long, that gives us a bit more time. This list is a combination of fiction, poetry, and theology. I hope you enjoy.

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

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Perhaps the most obvious choice, I find many people have seen film versions of this story, but have rarely read the book. It is a story of transformation, of hearts of stone exchanged for hearts of flesh. Don’t let the familiarity you may have with the story allow you to pass by the beauty of this Christmas Ghost Story.

Letters from Father Christmas by J. R. R. Tolkien

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From the creator of Middle Earth (or sub-creator I should perhaps say), many people don’t know, but shouldn’t be surprised to learn, that this creator of language and myth used to write letters to his children from Father Christmas. Filled with stories about the antics that cause Christmas to almost fail, this book is a collection of twenty years of epistles from that jolly old elf.

‘Farmer Giles of Ham’ in The Tolkien Reader by J. R. R. Tolkien

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What started as an introduction to George MacDonald’s ‘The Golden Key’ turned into a delightful fairy story. Giles is a farmer in the little kingdom who finds himself battling a giant and a dragon. The story takes place between Michaelmas and St Matthias’ Day, paying special attention to Christmas Day, St Stephen’s Day and more. Be prepared to laugh at a parody of the standard fairy tale.

‘Gawain and the Green Knight’ by The Pearl Poet

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Faerie castles, green giants who can survive without their heads, King Arthur, his cousin Gawain, and more. This poem which centres around Christmas and New Year’s is an excellent example of the Medieval faerie tradition and makes an excellent addition to any Christmas reading.

On the Incarnation by Athanasius

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This text defends the doctrine of the Incarnation against the Arian heresy. This is the text you want to read if you want to understand how the Church first began to articulate in greater detail how and why it is that Jesus Christ, the person who’s birth we celebrate in Christmas, is both God and Man. This can be a bit technical and use language that non-theologians might not be familiar with, but I highly recommend working through it, nevertheless.

On God and Christ by Gregory of Nazianzus

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This collection of sermons given by Gregory, bishop of Nazianzus, continue the fight against forms of Arianism, defending both the divinity and humanity of Jesus, as well as the divinity of the Spirit. Gregory takes what Athanasius had done before him and works out more aspects of the importance of the Incarnation. What both this book and the above have in common is an understanding that the coming of Christ means much more than our salvation from sin, but also our deification.

What are some of your favourite books to read during Christmas? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

Sincerely yours,
David Russell Mosley

‘Being Reconciled’ by John Milbank: Mini Book Review

David Russell Mosley

 

 

Festival of King Oswald
5 August 2013
Beeston, Nottinghamshire

Dear Friends and Family,

Here is review I wrote a few weeks ago after my second reading of John Milbank’s Being Reconciled. I hope you enjoy.

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This is my second reading of Milbank’s Being Reconciled and I must say I’m glad I read it again. While even after the first reading I determined that this was Milbank’s most comprehensible book, at least that I’ve tackled thus far, I still found more that I understood better this time around. I highly recommend this book to anyone who wishes to gain some insight into the theology of John Milbank but does not yet have the fortitude to brave Theology and Social Theory.

I will give fair warning that there are, for me, a few areas where I simply disagree with John. The main one, and only one I will deal with in this review, comes in chapter 4 ‘Incarnation: the sovereign victim’. Here John is juxtaposing the views of Thomas Aquinas and John Duns Scotus on the purpose of the incarnation. For Aquinas, it is about forgiveness, but a forgiveness that does more than forgive, but exceeds that and gives also the chance for deification, though Milbank argues that is the possibility of deification that makes the incarnation possible. Scotus, on the other hand, sees the incarnation as the ontological completion of creation. This is based in Scotus’s understanding of univocity of being where Christ is not the fulness, necessarily, but is beyond what humanity is. My own view, and I believe that of the Fathers, is somewhere in between. The Incarnation cannot be a reaction to our sin or related only to the divine foreknowledge of the Fall. Nor, however, is it purely Christ completing creation as a human who is, by nature of also being divine, is simply better than all other humans. For me, if deification has always been the telos for creation, then the means by which this is accomplished must include the Incarnation. God must become man in order for man to become God.

This aside, however, John’s understanding of the crucifixion, the telos of Creation and the necessity for a liturgical understanding of the time, the state, education, etc., makes this book one most definitely worth reading.

 

Sincerely yours,
David Russell Mosley

Lies Breathed through Silver or How God Creates History: Myths and Christianity

Dear Friends and Family,

I believe I’ve mentioned before both the fact that I have a profound appreciation for the writings of C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien, and that I have been sitting in on Alison Milbank’s Religion and Fantasy module here at the University of Nottingham. Well, a few weeks ago, Alison mentioned a YouTube video depicting a conversation had by Lewis and Tolkien (as well as Hugo Dyson who is left out of the video) from before Lewis was a Christian.

The topic of the conversation was the usefulness of myths. Lewis, having grown up loving Norse mythology and probably being quite familiar with Irish mythology as well, couldn’t reconcile the unhistorical nature of myths with his atheism. For Lewis, while myths were good stories, and even inspired something within him that, at the time, he could not understand, they were nonetheless lies, ‘breathed through silver.’

Tolkien counters this argument by noting that myths aren’t lies, their evidences of truth. For Tolkien all myths ultimately point to the one true myth, that of Christianity. When Tolkien says myth he means the exact opposite of lie, he means truth, or at least partial truth. What separates other myths from Christianity, for Tolkien, is that Christianity is the True myth. Tolkien describes myth making this way: when men create myths, they do so through stories; when God creates myth, he does through history. This doesn’t mean that there are no purely mythical (meaning unhistorical) aspects of Christianity, but that the heart and soul of the Christian myth (the Incarnation, God becoming man) is not only true, but a historical event.

Below I’ve included the video as well as the poem that Tolkien wrote after this conversation he had with Lewis. Please, enjoy both.

Yours,
David

To one [C.S. Lewis] who said that myths were lies and therefore worthless, even though ‘breathed through silver’.

Philomythus to Misomythus

You look at trees and label them just so,
(for trees are ‘trees’, and growing is ‘to grow’);
you walk the earth and tread with solemn pace
one of the many minor globes of Space:
a star’s a star, some matter in a ball
compelled to courses mathematical
amid the regimented, cold, inane,
where destined atoms are each moment slain.

At bidding of a Will, to which we bend
(and must), but only dimly apprehend,
great processes march on, as Time unrolls
from dark beginnings to uncertain goals;
and as on page o’er-written without clue,
with script and limning packed of various hue,
an endless multitude of forms appear,
some grim, some frail, some beautiful, some queer,
each alien, except as kin from one
remote Origo, gnat, man, stone, and sun.
God made the petreous rocks, the arboreal trees,
tellurian earth, and stellar stars, and these
homuncular men, who walk upon the ground
with nerves that tingle touched by light and sound.
The movements of the sea, the wind in boughs,
green grass, the large slow oddity of cows,
thunder and lightning, birds that wheel and cry,
slime crawling up from mud to live and die,
these each are duly registered and print
the brain’s contortions with a separate dint.
Yet trees are not ‘trees’, until so named and seen
and never were so named, tifi those had been
who speech’s involuted breath unfurled,
faint echo and dim picture of the world,
but neither record nor a photograph,
being divination, judgement, and a laugh
response of those that felt astir within
by deep monition movements that were kin
to life and death of trees, of beasts, of stars:
free captives undermining shadowy bars,
digging the foreknown from experience
and panning the vein of spirit out of sense.
Great powers they slowly brought out of themselves
and looking backward they beheld the elves
that wrought on cunning forges in the mind,
and light and dark on secret looms entwined.

He sees no stars who does not see them first
of living silver made that sudden burst
to flame like flowers bencath an ancient song,
whose very echo after-music long
has since pursued. There is no firmament,
only a void, unless a jewelled tent
myth-woven and elf-pattemed; and no earth,
unless the mother’s womb whence all have birth.
The heart of Man is not compound of lies,
but draws some wisdom from the only Wise,
and still recalls him. Though now long estranged,
Man is not wholly lost nor wholly changed.
Dis-graced he may be, yet is not dethroned,
and keeps the rags of lordship once he owned,
his world-dominion by creative act:
not his to worship the great Artefact,
Man, Sub-creator, the refracted light
through whom is splintered from a single White
to many hues, and endlessly combined
in living shapes that move from mind to mind.
Though all the crannies of the world we filled
with Elves and Goblins, though we dared to build
Gods and their houses out of dark and light,
and sowed the seed of dragons, ’twas our right
(used or misused). The right has not decayed.
We make still by the law in which we’re made.

Yes! ‘wish-fulfilment dreams’ we spin to cheat
our timid hearts and ugly Fact defeat!
Whence came the wish, and whence the power to dream,
or some things fair and others ugly deem?
All wishes are not idle, nor in vain
fulfilment we devise — for pain is pain,
not for itself to be desired, but ill;
or else to strive or to subdue the will
alike were graceless; and of Evil this
alone is deadly certain: Evil is.

Blessed are the timid hearts that evil hate
that quail in its shadow, and yet shut the gate;
that seek no parley, and in guarded room,
though small and bate, upon a clumsy loom
weave tissues gilded by the far-off day
hoped and believed in under Shadow’s sway.

Blessed are the men of Noah’s race that build
their little arks, though frail and poorly filled,
and steer through winds contrary towards a wraith,
a rumour of a harbour guessed by faith.

Blessed are the legend-makers with their rhyme
of things not found within recorded time.
It is not they that have forgot the Night,
or bid us flee to organized delight,
in lotus-isles of economic bliss
forswearing souls to gain a Circe-kiss
(and counterfeit at that, machine-produced,
bogus seduction of the twice-seduced).
Such isles they saw afar, and ones more fair,
and those that hear them yet may yet beware.
They have seen Death and ultimate defeat,
and yet they would not in despair retreat,
but oft to victory have tuned the lyre
and kindled hearts with legendary fire,
illuminating Now and dark Hath-been
with light of suns as yet by no man seen.

I would that I might with the minstrels sing
and stir the unseen with a throbbing string.
I would be with the mariners of the deep
that cut their slender planks on mountains steep
and voyage upon a vague and wandering quest,
for some have passed beyond the fabled West.
I would with the beleaguered fools be told,
that keep an inner fastness where their gold,
impure and scanty, yet they loyally bring
to mint in image blurred of distant king,
or in fantastic banners weave the sheen
heraldic emblems of a lord unseen.

I will not walk with your progressive apes,
erect and sapient. Before them gapes
the dark abyss to which their progress tends
if by God’s mercy progress ever ends,
and does not ceaselessly revolve the same
unfruitful course with changing of a name.
I will not treat your dusty path and flat,
denoting this and that by this and that,
your world immutable wherein no part
the little maker has with maker’s art.
I bow not yet before the Iron Crown,
nor cast my own small golden sceptre down.

In Paradise perchance the eye may stray
from gazing upon everlasting Day
to see the day illumined, and renew
from mirrored truth the likeness of the True.
Then looking on the Blessed Land ’twill see
that all is as it is, and yet made free:
Salvation changes not, nor yet destroys,
garden nor gardener, children nor their toys.
Evil it will not see, for evil lies
not in God’s picture but in crooked eyes,
not in the source but in malicious choice,
and not in sound but in the tuneless voice.
In Paradise they look no more awry;
and though they make anew, they make no lie.
Be sure they still will make, not being dead,
and poets shall have flames upon their head,
and harps whereon their faultless fingers fall:
there each shall choose for ever from the All.

Feast of St John, Or Three French Hens, Or The Word Became Flesh

Dear Friends and Family,

Today in the Church Calendar we celebrate the life of John the Evangelist, known in the Eastern Orthodox Church as John the Theologian. I love that we remember the author of John 1 in the middle of Christmastide. You see, as my friend Colin has written, Christmas Doesn’t End After Dinner. Christmas goes from 25 December until 5 January. Thus, as well as being the Feast of St John, today is also the third day of Christmas (hence the three french hens).

John is called the theologian because his gospel is always seen as the most theological. When the gospels are represented by the animals in Revelation, John’s is always depicted as the eagle soaring above the heights of the other three because it is more theologically explicit about Jesus is. John tells us that Christ is the Word (or at least leaves that inference to us). He then tells us that the Word is God and yet with God, and that the Word took on flesh and dwelt among us. You see, this is the meaning of Christmas. God the Son, or the Word as John calls him in his prologue, became a human being, born of the Virgin Mary. But what does this mean?

What we usually focus on, when it comes to God becoming human, or the Incarnation, is that Christ came to save us from our sins. He came to die, so he could defeat death and conquer sin so we could live with him in eternity. I don’t want to downplay the salvific significance of Christ’s coming, but I want to introduce another: God became man that we might become gods.

As I’ve said in a previous post, I’m now working in my research on the topic of Christian deification. Part of what this notion is centred in is that when Christ became human he made humans capable of becoming gods. Our ability to become gods is only by his grace and our adoption into his Sonship. As the Scriptures say, we become partakers of the divine nature. As one of the possible collects for the Morning Prayer Service in the Anglican Church says, ‘as he came to share our humanity, so we may share the life of his divinity.’ God coming as a baby into this world was to do more than save us from our sins, it was to do more than redeem us, it was, in a sense, to deify us. It can sound scary to ears not trained to hear it, but it is the life to which we are called.

I hope you all are enjoying the Christmas season. It is a time with family, as it should be, for family should remind us of Christ and his family: Scared (but obedient), young Mary and nervous (but noble) Joseph and the child they raised and named Jesus.

I want to leave you with Jesus’ prayer from the seventeenth chapter in John’s Gospel:

17 When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, 2 since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. 3 And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. 4 I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. 5 And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.

6 “I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. 7 Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you. 8 For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. 9 I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. 10 All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them. 11 And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. 12 While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. 13 But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves. 14 I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 15 I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19 And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.

20 “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. 24 Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. 25 O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. 26 I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”

Sincerely Yours,
David

The Waiting Is Nearly Over: The Final Sunday in Advent

Dear Friends and Family,

The wait is nearly over. Tomorrow evening we begin the celebration of the birth of Christ into this world. For the next twelve days we contemplate and give praise for the greatest gift and mystery, God become man.

To help usher in Christmastide, tonight a group of our (mostly) American friends will be attending a Christmas Eve (one day early) service at Southwell Minster.

Picture of Southwell Minster. Taken by my mom.

Picture of Southwell Minster. Taken by my mom.

Tonight we’ll sing carols (something I’ve tried to avoid to help add to my Christmas experience this year, and we’ll celebrate the coming King.

While Advent and Christmas are reminders of events that took place in the past, our participation in them is also to remind us that we still wait the return of our Saviour, Deifier, and King. I have been overawed this Advent thinking about the implications of waiting for the Saviour’s first coming. How long Israel had waited! Then, when their King comes they find out it isn’t to be just how they imagined it. Instead of being a solely political leader come to reunite Israel, they get a man who claims to be God, who turns all their notions on their heads and tells them he must die, resurrect, and return. May we not forget just who it is for whom we are still waiting.

What are your thoughts from Advent this year?

May the Lord, when he comes,
find us watching and waiting.

Yours,
David