The Good Serves the Better and Both the Best Part 1 - page 5

 

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From the Summer 2017 issue of Knowing & Doing:

The Good Serves the Better and Both the Best: C.S. Lewis on Imagination and Reason in Christian Apologetics
Part 1 of 3

by Michael Ward, Ph.D.
Senior Research Fellow, University of Oxford

 
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 When Lewis understood that the story recounted in the Gospels, rather than the commentary upon and outworking of that story in the Epistles, was the essence of Christianity’s meaning and that the Christ-story could be approached in a way similar to the way he approached pagan myths, it was a huge breakthrough for him. Christianity, he now saw, was a ‘true myth’ whereas pagan myths were ‘men’s myths’.11 In paganism God expressed Himself in an unfocussed way through the images which human imaginations deployed in order to tell stories about the world; but in the story of Christ Lewis located ‘God’s myth’,12—the story in which God directly expressed Himself through a real, historical life of a particular man, in a particular time, in a particular place,—Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah, crucified under Pontius Pilate outside Jerusalem, circa A.D. 33. That there were certain similarities between pagan myths and the true myth did not lead Lewis to conclude, ‘So much the worse for Christianity’; it led him to conclude ‘So much the better for Paganism.13 Paganism contained a good deal of meaning that was realised, consummated, and perfected in Christ.
 In a sense, Lewis had found in pagan myths what Christ himself had said could be found in the Old Testament story of Jonah. Jesus told the Pharisees: ‘No sign will be given this generation except the sign of Jonah: for as Jonah was in the belly of the great fish for three days and nights, so the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth for three days and nights’ (Matthew 12:39-40). Jonah’s descent and re-ascent are a meaningful prefiguration of Christ’s own death and resurrection. For Lewis, pagan myths amounted to a similar sort of Christotypical prefiguration.
 A couple of weeks after his conversation with Tolkien and Dyson, Lewis passed from being nearly certain that Christianity was true to being certain, but the important thing to notice, for our present purposes, is that the first hurdle Lewis had to clear before he could accept the truth of Christianity was an imaginative hurdle; his ‘organ of meaning’ had to be attended to and satisfied. Although imagination, in Lewis’s thinking, is a ‘lower’ thing than reason, it is not for that reason to be ignored; on the contrary, it is to be all the more honoured. ‘The highest does not stand without the lowest’ was a maxim from The Imitation of Christ that he greatly valued14 and rational assent to Christianity cannot occur unless there is some low ‘stuff’, some meaningful content, to which the higher faculty of reason may grant assent. Reason cannot operate without imagination.

 

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