C. S. Lewis on the Old Testament

I alluded to the following in one of my earlier posts in the series “The Pretty Good Book”.  I finally found my copy of C. S. Lewis’s Miracles, and located the quote, which is in a footnote in Chapter 15, “Miracles of the New Creation” (page 218 in the Harper San Francisco/Zondervan paperback edition I’ve got).

A consideration of the Old Testament miracles is beyond the scope of this book and would require many kinds of knowledge which I do not possess.  My present view—which is tentative and liable to any amount of correction—would be that just as, on the factual side, a long preparation culminates in God’s becoming incarnate as Man, so, on the documentary side, the truth first appears in mythical form and then by a long process of condensing or focusing finally becomes incarnate as History.  This involves the belief that Myth in general is not merely misunderstood history (as Euhemerus thought) nor diabolical illusion (as some of the Fathers thought) nor priestly lying (as the philosophers of the Enlightenment thought) but, at its best, a real though unfocused gleam of divine truth falling on human imagination.  The Hebrews, like other people, had mythology; but as they were the chosen people so their mythology was the chosen mythology—the mythology chosen by God to be the vehicle of the earliest sacred truths, the first step of the process which ends in the New Testament where truth has become completely historical.  Whether we can ever say with certainty where, in this process of crystallization, any particular Old Testament story falls, is another matter.  I take it that the Memoirs of David’s court come at one end of the scale and are scarcely less historical than St. Mark or Acts; and that the Book of Jonah is at the opposite end.  It should be noted that on this view (a) Just as God, in becoming Man, is ‘emptied’ of His glory, so the truth, when it comes down from the ‘heaven’ of myth to the ‘earth’ of history, undergoes a certain humiliation.  Hence the New Testament is, and ought to be, more prosaic, in some ways less splendid, than the Old; just as the Old Testament is and ought to be less rich in many kinds of imaginative beauty than the Pagan mythologies.  (b) Just as God is none the less God by being Man, so the Myth remains Myth even when it becomes Fact.  The story of Christ demands from us, and repays, not only a religious and historical but also an imaginative response.  It is directed to the child, the poet, and the savage in us as well as to the conscience and the intellect.  One of its functions is to break down dividing walls.

The boldface is my added emphasis.  It touches very felicitously on something I’ve noted (but not as effectively)–that is, that the Old Testament was revealed to a savage, barbarous people in a savage, barbarous time, and that this should always be remembered when we try to figure out what lessons to draw from it. Too many, not realizing this, try to justify atrocity, nastiness, and horrible behavior of every sort because they read the Old Testament literally, with no subtlety, nuance, or recognition of the issues Lewis describes here.  I will return to this at a later point on a post I’m planning on a specific Old Testament story.

Posted on 27/10/2012, in Bible, Catholicism, Christianity, religion, theology and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: