Thursday, August 18, 2016


Modern society is, I am afraid to point out, largely an illiterate society. It’s not that people don’t read. Yes, they can read and they do, but what they read is either mere technology or mere fantasy, with little in between. Most leisure hours—and with the advance of technology and the kind of leisure time it produces—are wasted, dedicated to ‘entertainment’ which is usually passive, people watching others.

What is true of modern society is, unfortunately, largely true of Christian society. It too is largely illiterate: first, biblically illiterate, second, theologically illiterate, and third, liturgically illiterate. How is it that the people who were once known as ‘of the Book’ can now be considered as Bookless as savages? Even the suggestion that we (Christians) should dedicate ourselves to participation falls on deaf ears.

Mega-churches have institutionalized this illiteracy, trying to escape it with programs of bible-reading, self-help guides and regimens, and ‘spirit-filled worship,’ but the result is that everything ‘goes in one ear and out the other,’ while people fastidiously run a tread mill that keeps them in their place and prevents them from living the life of salvation: Sacred Scripture, Holy Tradition, and Divine Liturgy.

The divorce between Science and Theology is made permanent in fact and in imagination by this illiteracy. Even when people do make an intentional effort to become literate, they are usually derailed by the prevailing world views derived from illiteracy. They can read the Holy Bible or a Church Father, or even stand in the Divine Liturgy (stand, but only watch, not pray and worship), yet see nothing.

There are many ways to see, and some languages have a different word for each of these, but English has only one—to see—which must cover them all. The seeing that I am talking about is the result of becoming literate by reading the Bible and living in it, making friends with the Church Fathers (and Mothers), those whose lives and writings are for us, and finally, participating in the Divine Liturgy, which is the only ‘worship in spirit and truth’ that God the Father desires.

Back to the ‘great divorce’ between Science and Theology which affects all of us when we do not recognize and resist it, a common intellectual malady from which the Christian suffers along with the non-believer, is the feeling of mankind’s and earth’s insignificance in the universe, which drives us to minimize and even trivialize the claims of religious faith. The modern atheist doesn’t help either.

Without admitting it to themselves, many Christians have a defeatist attitude, again the result of illiteracy, that since the universe isn’t the geocentric one, and since they can’t have a paradise heaven above the fixed stars and a fiery hell beneath the fixed earth, they must go along with the charade as long as possible, pretending to be sinners so they can pretend to be saved, and other such tomfoolery.

But the Church didn’t at first reject the heliocentric model of the universe because it was opposed to objective scientific inquiry, but because it made man—and therefore his nature, his fall, and his redemption by an incarnate God—seem unimportant. Church, just like the individual Christian, must gradually mature, changing in the process yet remaining the same. This, we often fail to understand.

Hence the malady of which I spoke. Fear, always fear, an unconscious or at least unrecognized disobedience to the Lord Jesus Christ who says to us, ‘Do not be afraid. It is I,’ is what causes the Church as well as the individual Christian to freeze in their tracks, to dig in their heels and asslike avoid being dragged into a reality and a world they reject in advance, because they think it makes them unimportant.

But the glory of God, which the literate Christian experiences all around him precisely because he is literate and can read ‘the signs,’ is anything but reduced or made unimportant by the progress of science, or of true theology. In fact, the more literate he becomes, the greater God becomes, the deeper His divine economy, the more universal His revelation—all things infused with His victorious truth.

This biblical, theological, and liturgical literacy is not merely a function of the mind. It pervades the whole person and comes through every sense, not just the eyes and ears, and not only through literal study but through experience, through participation of the whole human being in the work of Christ, that is, what He does to redeem mankind, the earth, and the universe, with us, in us, and as us.

Everything that science has discovered—though not everything that science has produced technologically—continues to enlarge and glorify the God of heaven, and of the heaven of heavens. Irrelevant the model of the universe that we in our generation or in earlier or later generations conceive, that universe is what it is, and only by the love and mercy of God, that is, by His power.

A modern Church Father, C. S. Lewis (no, he wasn’t canonically an Orthodox Christian, nor is he called a ‘Church Father’ by the Church, but nevertheless that is what he is) who wrote theology for the lay Christian also wrote it for children (the Chronicles of Narnia) and for science fiction buffs (the Space Trilogy), and his works can be safely read by all because they spur us on to greater literacy.

In the second volume of his Space Trilogy, in Perelandra, the seventeenth and final chapter, Lewis enunciates ‘the eternal gospel’ or the theology of Deep Heaven (outer space) in a dialog between an earthman, Ransom, and the archons (angelic beings who guard and move in their orbits the planets) of Malacandra (Mars) and Perelandra (Venus), which can gauge the level of literacy of the reader.

If you have read my essay—long enough!—and do not wish to read further, you are excused. If you want to check your literacy level, reading this passage and seeing how much of it you understand may only be as informative as those on-line quizzes that pop up in your browser from time to time. Or, it might be a sign to you of where you are, how far you’ve come, and perhaps where you ought to go next.

Life, especially Christian life, isn’t all about reading and should not make you a bookworm, but life is a book that we write, that we co-author with God, and for that project, the greatest of all that are assigned to us, we must first learn to read, to be literate. Read your Bible, daily, and the writings of saints, and regularly worship in the Divine Liturgy, and then, as Christ commands, ‘Go forth…’

Now, the dialog (C. S. Lewis, Perelandra, ch. 17)…

“Then it is Maleldil’s purpose to make us free of Deep Heaven. Our bodies will be changed, but not all changed. We shall be as the eldila, but not all as the eldila. And so will all our sons and daughters be changed in the time of their ripeness, until the number is made up which Maleldil read in His Father’s mind before times flowed.”

“And that,” said Ransom, “will be the end?” Tor the King stared at him. “The end?” he said. “Who spoke of an end?” “The end of your world, I mean,” said Ransom. “Splendour of Heaven!” said Tor. “Your thoughts are unlike ours. About that time we shall be not far from the beginning of all things. But there will be one matter to settle before the beginning rightly begins.”

“What is that?” asked Ransom. “Your own world,” said Tor, “Thulcandra. The siege of your world shall be raised, the black spot cleared away, before the real beginning. In those days Maleldil will go to war — in us, and in many who once were hnau on your world, and in many from far off and in many eldila, and, last of all, in Himself unveiled, He will go down to Thulcandra.

Some of us will go before. It is in my mind, Malacandra, that thou and I will be among those. We shall fall upon your moon, wherein there is a secret evil, and which is as the shield of the Dark Lord of Thulcandra — scarred with many a blow. We shall break her. Her light shall be put out. Her fragments shall fall into your world and the seas and the smoke shall arise so that the dwellers in Thulcandra will no longer see the light of Arbol.

And as Maleldil Himself draws near, the evil things in your world shall show themselves stripped of disguise so that plagues and horrors shall cover your lands and seas. But in the end all shall be cleansed, and even the memory of your Black Oyarsa blotted out, and your world shall be fair and sweet and reunited to the field of Arbol and its true name shall be heard again. But can it be Friend, that no rumour of all this is heard in Thulcandra? Do your people think that their Dark Lord will hold his prey for ever?”

“Most of them,” said Ransom, “have ceased to think of such things at all. Some of us still have the knowledge: but I did not at once see what you were talking of, because what you call the beginning we are accustomed to call the Last Things.”

“I do not call it the beginning,” said Tor the King. “It is but the wiping out of a false start in order that the world may then begin. As when a man lies down to sleep, if he finds a twisted root under his shoulder he will change his place — and after that his real sleep begins. Or as a man setting foot on an island, may make a false step. He steadies himself and after that his journey begins. You would not call that steadying of himself a last thing?”

“And is the whole story of my race no more than this?” said Ransom. “I see no more than beginnings in the history of the Low Worlds,” said Tor the King. “And in yours a failure to begin. You talk of evenings before the day had dawned. I set forth even now on ten thousand years of preparation — I, the first of my race, my race the first of races, to begin. I tell you that when the last of my children has ripened and ripeness has spread from them to all the Low Worlds, it will be whispered that the morning is at hand.”

“I am full of doubts and ignorance,” said Ransom. “In our world those who know Maleldil at all believe that His coming down to us and being a man is the central happening of all that happens. If you take that from me, Father, whither will you lead me? Surely not to the enemy’s talk which thrusts my world and my race into a remote corner and gives me a universe with no centre at all, but millions of worlds that lead nowhere or (what is worse) to more and more worlds for ever, and comes over me with numbers and empty spaces and repetitions and asks me to bow down before bigness.

Or do you make your world the centre? But I am troubled. What of the people of Malacandra? Would they also think that their world was the centre? I do not even see how your world can rightly be called yours. You were made yesterday and it is from old. The most of it is water where you cannot live. And what of the things beneath its crust? And of the great spaces with no world at all? Is the enemy easily answered when He says that all is without plan or meaning?

As soon as we think we see one it melts away into nothing, or into some other plan that we never dreamed of, and what was the centre becomes the rim, till we doubt if any shape or plan or pattern was ever more than a trick of our own eyes, cheated with hope, or tired with too much looking. To what is all driving? What is the morning you speak of? What is it the beginning of?”

“The beginning of the Great Game, of the Great Dance,” said Tor. “I know little of it as yet. Let the eldila speak.”

“We would not talk of it like that,” said the first voice. “The Great Dance does not wait to be perfect until the peoples of the Low Worlds are gathered into it. We speak not of when it will begin. It has begun from before always. There was no time when we did not rejoice before His face as now. The dance which we dance is at the centre and for the dance all things were made. Blessed be He!”

Another said, “Never did He make two things the same; never did He utter one word twice. After earths, not better earths but beasts; after beasts, not better beasts but spirits. After a falling, not recovery but a new creation. Out of the new creation, not a third but the mode of change itself is changed for ever. Blessed be He!”

And another said, “It is loaded with justice as a tree bows down with fruit. All is righteousness and there is no equality. Not as when stones lie side by side, but as when stones support and are supported in an arch, such is His order; rule and obedience, begetting and bearing, heat glancing down, life growing up. Blessed be He!”

One said, “They who add years to years in lumpish aggregation, or miles to miles and galaxies to galaxies, shall not come near His greatness. The day of the fields of Arbol will fade and the days of Deep Heaven itself are numbered. Not thus is He great. He dwells (all of Him dwells) within the seed of the smallest flower and is not cramped: Deep Heaven is inside Him who is inside the seed and does not distend Him. Blessed be He!”

“The edge of each nature borders on that whereof it contains no shadow or similitude. Of many points one line; of many lines one shape; of many shapes one solid body; of many senses and thoughts one person; of three persons, Himself. As is the circle to the sphere, so are the ancient worlds that needed no redemption to that world wherein He was born and died. As is a point to a line, so is that world to the far-off fruits of its redeeming. Blessed be He!”

“Yet the circle is not less round than the sphere, and the sphere is the home and fatherland of circles. Infinite multitudes of circles lie enclosed in every sphere, and if they spoke they would say. For us were spheres created. Let no mouth open to gainsay them. Blessed be He!”

“The peoples of the ancient worlds who never sinned, for whom He never came down, are the peoples for whose sake the Low Worlds were made. For though the healing what was wounded and the straightening what was bent is a new dimension of glory, yet the straight was not made that it might be bent nor the whole that it might be wounded. The ancient peoples are at the centre. Blessed
be He!”

“All which is not itself the Great Dance was made in order that He might, come down into it. In the Fallen World He prepared for Himself a body and was united with the Dust and made it glorious for ever. This is the end and final cause of all creating, and the sin whereby it came is called Fortunate and the world where this was enacted is the centre of worlds. Blessed be He!”

“The Tree was planted in that world but the fruit has ripened in this. The fountain that sprang with mingled blood and life in the Dark World, flows here with life only. We have passed the first cataracts, and from here onward the stream flows deep and turns in the direction of the sea. This is the Morning Star which He promised to those who conquer; this is the centre of worlds. Till now, all has waited. But now the trumpet has sounded and the army is on the move. Blessed be He!”

“Though men or angels rule them, the worlds are for themselves. The waters you have not floated on, the fruit you have not plucked, the caves into which you have not descended and the fire through which your bodies cannot pass, do not await your coming to put on perfection, though they will obey you when you come. Times without number I have circled Arbol while you were not alive, and those times were not desert. Their own voice was in them, not merely a dreaming of the day when you should awake. They also were at the centre. Be comforted, small immortals. You are not the voice that all things utter, nor is there eternal silence in the places where you cannot come. No feet have walked, nor shall, on the ice of Glund; no eye looked up from beneath on the Ring of Lurga, and Iron-plain in Neruval is chaste and empty. Yet it is not for nothing that the gods walked ceaselessly around the fields of Arbol. Blessed be He!” ‘

“That Dust itself which is scattered so rare in Heaven, whereof all worlds, and the bodies that are not worlds, are made, is at the centre. It waits not till created eyes have seen it or hands handled it, to be in itself a strength and splendour of Maleldil. Only the least part has served, or ever shall, a beast, a man, or a god. But always, and beyond all distances, before they came and after they are gone and where they never come, it is what it is and utters the heart of the Holy One with its own voice. It is farthest from Him of all things, for it has no life, nor sense, nor reason; it is nearest to Him of all things for without intervening soul, as sparks fly out of fire. He utters in each grain of it the unmixed image of His energy. Each grain, if it spoke, would say, I am at the centre; for me all things were made. Let no mouth open to gainsay it. Blessed be He!”

“Each grain is at the centre. The Dust is at the centre. The Worlds are at the centre. The beasts are at the centre. The ancient peoples are there. The race that sinned is there. Tor and Tinidril are there. The
gods are there also. Blessed be He!”

“Where Maleldil is, there is the centre. He is in every place. Not some of Him in one place and some in another, but in each place the whole Maleldil, even in the smallness beyond thought. There is no way out of the centre save into the Bent Will which casts itself into the Nowhere. Blessed be He!”

“Each thing was made for Him. He is the centre. Because we are with Him, each of us is at the centre. It is not as in a city of the Darkened World where they say that each must live for all. In His city all things are made for each. When He died in the Wounded World He died not for me, but for each man. If each man had been the only man made, he would have done no less. Each thing, from the single grain of Dust to the strongest eldil, is the end and the final cause of all creation and the mirror in which the beam of His brightness comes to rest and so returns to Him. Blessed be He!”

“In the plan of the Great Dance plans without number interlock, and each movement becomes in its season the breaking into flower of the whole design to which all else had been directed. Thus each is equally at the centre and none are there by being equals, but some by giving place and some by receiving it, the small things by their smallness and the great by their greatness, and all the patterns linked and looped together by the unions of a kneeling with a sceptred love. Blessed be He!”

“He has immeasurable use for each thing that is made, that His love and splendour may flow forth like a strong river which has need of a great watercourse and fills alike the deep pools and the little crannies, that are filled equally and remain unequal; and when it has filled them brim full it flows over and makes new channels. We also have need beyond measure of all that He has made. Love me, my brothers, for I am infinitely necessary to you and for your delight I was made. Blessed be He!”

“He has no need at all of anything that is made. An eldil is not more needful to Him than a grain of the Dust: a peopled world no more needful than a world that is empty: but all needless alike, and what all add to Him is nothing. We also have no need of anything that is made. Love me, my brothers, for I am infinitely superfluous, and your love shall be like His, born neither of your need nor of my deserving, but a plain bounty. Blessed be He!”

“All things are by Him and for Him. He utters Himself also for His own delight and sees that He is good. He is His own begotten and what proceeds from Him is Himself. Blessed be He!”

“All that is made seems planless to the darkened mind, because there are more plans than it looked for. In these seas there are islands where the hairs of the turf are so fine and so closely woven together that unless a man looked long at them he would see neither hairs not weaving at all, but only the same and the flat. So with the Great Dance. Set your eyes on one movement and it will lead you through all patterns and it will seem to you the master movement. But the seeming will be true. Let no mouth open to gainsay it. There seems no plan because it is all plan: there seems no centre because it is all centre. Blessed be He!”

“Yet this seeming also is the end and final cause for which He spreads out Time so long and Heaven so deep; lest if we never met the dark, and the road that leads no — whither, and the question to which no answer is imaginable, we should have in our minds no likeness of the Abyss of the Father, into which if a creature drop down his thoughts for ever he shall hear no echo return to him. Blessed, blessed, blessed be He!”

Read the entire book Perelandra on-line HERE.

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