The Incarnation, Other Worlds, and Myth

jesus christ bridegroom bride rapture churchC. S. Lewis “believe[d] in the Creation, the Fall, the Incarnation, the Resurrection, the Second Coming, and the Four Last Things” (336), doctrines that he considered essential to “mere Christianity” (336). Lewis also believed in the “physical resurrection” of Jesus Christ (“To Genia” 127). Still, when asked about the resurrection of the dead in Letters to Malcolm, he said he thought that “the glorified body of the resurrection as I conceive it – the sensuous life raised from its death – will be inside the soul” (122). Lewis pretends to argue with Malcolm, whom he thinks will reply that this “is no resurrection of the body. You give the dead a sort of dream world and dream bodies. They are not real” (123). Lewis’s response is that this resurrection is not instantaneous (123). Instead, he thinks that the body “sleeps in death, and the intellectual soul is sent to Lenten lands where she fasts in naked spirituality – a ghost-like and imperfectly human condition” (123-24). Lewis calls all this supposition “guesses … only guesses” (124). For such a vital Christian doctrine, people need more than “guesses.” They need the unchanging truth of the Word.

Lewis also believed in a literal virgin birth (“To Mr. Young” 1476). He told one inquirer “to read Matthew Chap. I and Luke I and II” (“To Genia” 127). Lewis still saw the Incarnation as the divine act of myth becoming fact. He called the story of Christ’s “incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection” in the gospels “a true myth: a myth working on us in the same way as the others, but with this tremendous difference that it really happened: and one must be content to accept it in the same way, remembering that it is God’s myth where the others are men’s myths” (“To Arthur” 288). In his essay “Myth Became Fact,” Lewis goes further, stating that “as myth transcends thought, Incarnation transcends myth. The heart of Christianity is a myth which is also a fact. The old myth of the Dying God, without ceasing to be myth, comes down from the heaven of legend and imagination to the earth of history” (66).

What is myth? Why does it matter? In Miracles, Lewis defines myth as a “real though unfocussed gleam of divine truth falling on human imagination” (161n). In The Problem of Pain, however, Lewis considers it “an account of what may have been the historical fact,” which he insists should not “be confused with ‘myth’ in Dr. Niebuhr’s sense (i.e. a symbolical representation of non-historical truth)” (71n3). Lewis saw an intricate connection between myth and Christianity. At one time, he believed the story of Christ in the Gospels was like other unhistorical pagan myths (“To Arthur” 976-77). After his conversion, however, Lewis realized that those other myths were “God expressing Himself through the minds of poets, using such images as He found there, while Christianity is [God] expressing Himself through what we call ‘real things’” (977). Walter Hooper calls this key idea “Christianity is about ‘real things’” (Companion 553). According to Lewis, Christianity is still a myth, only a true one, which “by becoming fact … does not cease to be myth: that is the miracle. … What became Fact was a Myth, that it carries with it into the world of Fact all the properties of a myth” (“Myth” 67). As a result, Lewis did not repudiate other myths, for he said that “to be truly Christian we must both assent to the historical fact and also receive the myth (fact though it has become) with the same imaginative embrace which we accord to all myths. … We must not be ashamed of the mythical radiance resting on our theology. We must not be nervous about ‘parallels’ and ‘Pagan Christs’: they ought to be there – it would be a stumbling block if they weren’t” (“Myth” 67).

jesus world globeIs Christ’s incarnation unique, or has He taken other forms in other worlds? Lewis allows for the latter possibility. In Mere Christianity, he believes “there may be creatures in other worlds who are more like God than man is, but we do not know about them” (158). In “Dogma and the Universe,” Lewis says that “the doctrine of the Incarnation would conflict with what we know of this vast universe only if we knew also that there were other rational species in it who had, like us, fallen, and who needed redemption in the same mode”; these other worlds may also be “full of life that needs no redemption” or “has been redeemed” (43). Writing to the mother of a boy who loved Aslan more than Christ, while discussing Aslan’s “lion body” Lewis notes that “if there are other worlds and they need to be saved and Christ were to save them … he may really have taken all sorts of bodies in them which we don’t know about” (“To Philinda” 603). Andrew Walker thinks that “this vision of God … visiting and saving worlds … through a multiplicity of incarnations raises interesting questions about the uniqueness and efficacy of Christ’s atoning death, and its role in releasing the groaning cosmos from its time-bound necessity” (35). Walker considers Lewis’s ideas on the Incarnation inadequate, since Christ becomes “not so much the God-man, who is flesh of our flesh, as the temporarily earth-visiting God” who instead of “sink[ing] down to our level as we would descend to the lower forms … sucks up humanity into the Godhead” (34-35). Lewis uses this view as a metaphor for biblical inspiration: “as in Christ a human soul-and-body are taken up and made the vehicle of Deity, so in Scripture, a mass of human legend, history, moral teaching etc. are taken up and made the vehicle of God’s Word. Errors of minor fact are permitted to remain” (“To Lee” 961).

Sources
Hooper, Walter. C. S. Lewis: A Companion and Guide. New York: HarperCollins, 1996.
—, ed. The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis, Volume 3: Narnia, Cambridge, and Joy, 1950-1963. San Francisco: HarperCollins, 2007.
Lewis, C. S. “Dogma and the Universe.” The Guardian (19 / 26 Mar. 1943): 96, 104, 107. Rpt. in God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics. Ed. Walter Hooper. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1970. 38-47.
—. Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer. San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1964.
—. Mere Christianity. 1952. San Francisco: HarperCollins, 2001.
—. Miracles: A Preliminary Study. New York: Macmillan, 1947.
—. “Myth Became Fact.” World Dominion 22 (Sept-Oct 1944): 267-70. Rpt. in God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics. Ed. Walter Hooper. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1970. 63-67.
—. The Problem of Pain. 1940. San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1996.
—. “To Arthur Greeves.” 18 Oct. 1931. The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis, Volume 1: Family Letters, 1905-1931. Ed. Walter Hooper. San Francisco: HarperCollins, 2004. 975-77.
—. “To Genia Goelz.” 13 June 1951. The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis, Volume 3: Narnia, Cambridge, and Joy, 1950-1963. Ed. Walter Hooper. 126-27.
—. “To Lee Turner.” 19 July 1958. The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis, Volume 3: Narnia, Cambridge, and Joy, 1950-1963. Ed. Walter Hooper. 960-61.
—. “To Philinda Krieg.” 6 May 1955. The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis, Volume 3: Narnia, Cambridge, and Joy, 1950-1963. Ed. Walter Hooper. 602-603.
—. “To Mr. Young.” 31 Oct. 1963. The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis, Volume 3: Narnia, Cambridge, and Joy, 1950-1963. Ed. Walter Hooper. 1476-77.
Walker, Andrew. “Scripture, Revelation, and Platonism in C. S. Lewis.” Scottish Journal of Theology 55.1 (2002): 19-35.

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