Men without Chests

I doubt whether we are sufficiently attentive to the importance of elementary text books. That is why I have chosen as the starting-point for these lectures a little book on English intended for 'boys and girls in the upper forms of schools'. I do not think the authors of this book (there were two of them) intended any harm, and I owe them, or their publisher, good language for sending me a complimentary copy. At the same time I shall have nothing good to say of them. Here is a pretty predicament. I do not want to pillory two modest practising schoolmasters who were doing the best they knew: but I cannot be silent about what I think the actual tendency of their work. I therefore propose to conceal their names. I shall refer to these gentlemen as Gaius and Titius and to their book as The Green Book. But I promise you there is such a book and I have it on my shelves.

In their second chapter Gaius and Titius quote the well-known story of Coleridge at the waterfall. You remember that there were two tourists present: that one called it 'sublime' and the other 'pretty'; and that Coleridge mentally endorsed the first judgement and rejected the second with disgust. Gaius and Titius comment as follows: 'When the man said This is sublime, he appeared to be making a remark about the waterfall... Actually ... he was not making a remark about the waterfall, but a remark about his own feelings. What he was saying was really I have feelings associated in my mind with the word "Sublime", or shortly, I have sublime feelings'. Here are a good many deep questions settled in a pretty summary fashion. But the authors are not yet finished. They add: 'This confusion is continually present in language as we use it. We appear to be saying something very important about something: and actually we are only saying something about our own feelings.'

Before considering the issues really raised by this momentous little paragraph (designed, you will remember, for 'the upper forms of schools') we must eliminate one mere confusion into which Gaius and Titius have fallen. Even on their own view — on any conceivable view — the man who says, This is sublime cannot mean I have sublime feelings. Even if it were granted that such qualities as sublimity were simply and solely projected into things from our own emotions, yet the emotions which prompt the projection are the correlatives, and therefore almost the opposites, of the qualities projected. The feelings which make a man call an object sublime are not sublime feelings but feelings of veneration. If This is sublime is to be reduced at all to a statement about the speaker's feelings, the proper translation would be I have humble feelings. If the view held by Gaius and Titius were consistently applied it would lead to obvious absurdities. It would force them to maintain that You are contemptible means I have contemptible feelings', in fact that Your feelings are contemptible means My feelings are contemptible. But we need not delay over this which is the very pons asinorum of our subject. It would be unjust to Gaius and Titius themselves to emphasize what was doubtless a mere inadvertence.

The schoolboy who reads this passage in The Green Book will believe two propositions: firstly, that all sentences containing a predicate of value are statements about the emotional state of the speaker, and secondly, that all such statements are unimportant. It is true that Gaius and Titius have said neither of these things in so many words. They have treated only one particular predicate of value (sublime) as a word descriptive of the speaker's emotions. The pupils are left to do for themselves the work of extending the same treatment to all predicates of value: and no slightest obstacle to such extension is placed in their way. The authors may or may not desire the extension: they may never have given the question five minutes' serious thought in their lives. I am not concerned with what they desired but with the effect their book will certainly have on the schoolboy's mind. In the same way, they have not said that judgements of value are unimportant. Their words are that we 'appear to be saying something very important' when in reality we are 'only saying something about our own feelings'. No schoolboy will be able to resist the suggestion brought to bear upon him by that word only. I do not mean, of course, that he will make any conscious inference from what he reads to a general philosophical theory that all values are subjective and trivial. The very power of Gaius and Titius depends on the fact that they are dealing with a boy: a boy who thinks he is 'doing' his 'English prep' and has no notion that ethics, theology, and politics are all at stake. It is not a theory they put into his mind, but an assumption, which ten years hence, its origin forgotten and its presence unconscious, will condition him to take one side in a controversy which he has never recognized as a controversy at all. The authors themselves, I suspect, hardly know what they are doing to the boy, and he cannot know what is being done to him.

C.S. Lewis
The ‘Abolition of Man’ or ‘Reflections on education with special reference to the teaching of English in the upper forms of schools’
Chapter 1 “Men without Chests”

Love, the Pope, and C.S. Lewis

For Augustine, St. Thomas, and their followers, caritas, or charity, is the highest form of love. It is an infused theological virtue, inclining us to love God and our neighbour with an affection that is a participation in the love proper to God.

C.S. Lewis communicates the same idea in less technical language. Eros and agape (which he prefers to designate as "Need-love" and "Gift-love") can exist, he says, on either the natural or the supernatural plane. When, with God’s help, our Need-love rises to the point where we recognize our total dependence on God’s love for us, it can become a form of charity. And so likewise, when our Gift-love is so graced that it goes out to include persons who are naturally unattractive and unlovable, it deserves to be called charity in this theological sense of the word. Pope Benedict, it seems, has something similar in mind when he says that love at its most perfect combines in itself the qualities of eros and agape.

At the end of The Four Loves, Lewis makes an important statement that he does not develop at the length it deserves: Grace can arouse in us a higher kind of love than either eros or agape as he understands them. God, according to Lewis, "can awake in man, towards Himself, a supernatural appreciative love. This is of all gifts the most to be desired. Here, not in our natural loves, nor even in ethics, lies the true centre of all human and angelic life."

Earlier in the book, Lewis had drawn a helpful contrast among three forms of love: "Need-love cries out to God from our poverty; Gift-love longs to serve, or even to suffer for, God; Appreciative love says ’We give thanks to thee for thy great glory.’ " Corresponding to what the Scholastics called amor complacentiae, it rejoices in the consummate perfection of the divine. As Lewis’ citation from the Gloria indicates, the Church’s earthly liturgy contains anticipations of the hymns of the angels before the throne of God. They no longer seek from him anything that they do not have, nor do they intend to give him anything he might desire. They worship and praise him with loud hosannas, not because they thereby benefit either God or themselves but simply to express their love.

In Deus Caritas Est,* Pope Benedict makes no mention of appreciative love, nor does he discuss the love of the saints in heaven. Nevertheless, from his writings on the liturgy, one may suspect that he would be open to the idea that caritas tends to an eschatological fulfilment that, in the opinion of Lewis, transcends the earthly realizations of eros and agape alike.

*Pope Benedict XVI 2006 encyclical

From the article by Avery Cardinal Dulles
'First Things' January 2007

T.S. Eliot on Charles Williams

For him there was no frontier between the material and the spiritual world. Had I ever to spend a night in a haunted house, I should have felt secure with Williams in my company; he was somehow protected from evil, and was himself a protection... To him the supernatural was natural, and the natural was also supernatural... Williams' understanding of Evil was profound... He is concerned, not with the Evil of conventional morality and the ordinary manifestations by which we recognize it, but with the essence of Evil; it is therefore Evil which has no power to attract us, for we see it as the repulsive thing it is, and as the despair of the damned from which we recoil…

The deeper things are there just because they belonged to the world he lived in, and he could not have kept them out. For the reader who can appreciate them, there are terrors in the pit of darkness into which he can make us look; but in the end, we are brought nearer to what another modern explorer of the darkness has called ‘the laughter at the heart of things’*.

T.S. Eliot's introduction to All Hallow's Eve (extract)

* Helen M. Luke

New Learning and New Ignorance

One thing is certain. It felt very unlike being a 'puritan' such as we meet in nineteenth-century fiction. Dickens's Mrs. Clennam, trying to expiate her early sin by a long life of voluntary gloom, was doing exactly what the first Protestants would have forbidden her to do. They would have thought her whole conception of expiation papistical. On the Protestant view one could not, and by God's mercy need not, expiate one's sins. Theologically, Protestantism was either a recovery, or a development, or an exaggeration (it is not for the literary historian to say which) of Pauline theology…

In the mind of a Tyndale or Luther, as in the mind of St. Paul himself, this theology was by no means an intellectual construction made in the interests of speculative thought. It springs directly out of a highly specialized religious experience; and all its affirmations, when separated from that context, become meaningless or else mean the opposite of what was intended. Propositions originally framed with the sole purpose of praising the Divine compassion as boundless, hardly credible, and utterly gratuitous, build up, when extrapolated and systematized, into something that sounds not unlike devil-worship.

The experience is that of catastrophic conversion. The man who has passed through it feels like one who has waked from nightmare into ecstasy. Like an accepted lover, he feels that he has done nothing, and never could have done anything, to deserve such astonishing happiness. Never again can he 'crow from the dung-hill of desert'. All the initiative has been on God's side; all has been free, unbounded grace. And all will continue to be free, unbounded grace. His own puny and ridiculous efforts would be as helpless to retain the joy as they would have been to achieve it in the first place. Fortunately they need not. Bliss is not for sale, cannot be earned. 'Works' have no 'merit', though of course faith, inevitably, even unconsciously, flows out into works of love at once. He is not saved because he does works of love: he does works of love because he is saved. It is faith alone that has saved him: faith bestowed by sheer gift. From this buoyant humility, this farewell to the self with all its good resolutions, anxiety, scruples, and motive-scratchings, all the Protestant doctrines originally sprang.

C.S. Lewis ~ English Literature in the
Sixteenth Century excluding Drama (OUP)

Lay (excerpt)

THE moonlight over Radcliffe Square,
Small sunset spires that drowse and dream,
Thin bells that ring to evening prayer.
Red willow-roots along the stream,
And perilous grey streets, that teem
With light feet wandering unaware.
And winter nights with lamps agleam,
Globed golden in the violet air ;
Odd nightmare carven things, that stare
Spell-stricken in a voiceless scream ;
The worn steps of an ancient stair,
With oaken balustrade and beam —
Such things are weightier than they seem :
These marks my branded soul must bear.
Pledges that Time cannot redeem.
And yet God knows if I shall care !

Dorothy L. Sayers ~ Oxford Poetry (1915) Blackwell

After Prayers, Lie Cold

Arise my body, my small body, we have striven
Enough, and He is merciful; we are forgiven.
Arise small body, puppet-like and pale, and go,
White as the bed-clothes into bed, and cold as snow,
Undress with small, cold fingers and put out the light,
And be alone, hush'd mortal, in the sacred night,
-A meadow whipt flat with the rain, a cup
Emptied and clean, a garment washed and folded up,
Faded in colour, thinned almost to raggedness
By dirt and by the washing of that dirtiness.
Be not too quickly warm again. Lie cold; consent
To weariness' and pardon's watery element.
Drink up the bitter water, breathe the chilly death;
Soon enough comes the riot of our blood and breath.

C.S. Lewis ~ Poems (Geoffrey Bles) 1964

True Cultivation?

What were the qualities which the good tutor would look for, instil, and cultivate in his pupil in the year 1680?

Firstly, physical courage, without which all other inherited or acquired accomplishments would be not only useless, but worse than useless, serving merely to emphasize the lack of the one essential quality. Politeness: a knowledge of the world: piety, or at worst, a scrupulous observance of the externals of religion: an open-handed carelessness, real or simulated, in money matters: conformity to a standard of good taste high enough to enable one to offer intelligent criticism of a cook, a sermon, a jewel, a play, or the layout of a friend's garden. If nature has endowed you with any brains, so much the better, for you will have the much envied gift of being able to say a good thing, or of turning out an acceptable set of drawing room verses. But otherwise, dispossession of brains is not a quality to be paraded, still less must you make a show of acquired knowledge; Chavigny, in 1705, published a conversation piece for the guidance of the would-be honnete homme which contains this significant bit of dialogue:

Q. “Is it necessary for persons of quality to understand painting, music,
and architecture?”

A. “It is a good thing that they should be instructed in these matters,
but they must not let it appear that they are skilled in them."

An affectation of amateurishness, in fact, is that which gives the final polish to the well-bred man's character.

W.H. ‘Warnie’ Lewis ~ The Sunset of the Splendid Century
(William Sloan Associates) 1955

The Clerk

The clerk sat on a stool
And added up a column,
Looking a very fool,
Staid he was and solemn.
He said :
' Nineteen and one,
Mark nought and carry two,'
And that was all that he had done
And all that he could do.

The clerk sat on his stool
And another line began :
The heroes called him fool
But God had called him man.
He said :
' Two fives are ten
And carry one along.
'The devil shuddered in his den
And Heaven broke forth in song.

Charles Williams ~ Poems of Conformity (1917) Milford-OUP