Monday, October 13, 2014

C. S. Lewis: The Grand Miracle (Myth and Allusions)

One thing that can make C. S. Lewis difficult to read at times are the prolific allusions he makes without giving much, if any, explanation. He just expects you to know what he is talking about.

For example, in a short essay titled, "The Grand Miracle", Lewis writes:

"...does not the Christian story show this pattern of descent and re-ascent because that is part of all the nature religions of the world? We have read about it in The Golden Boughs. We all know about Adonis, and the stories of the rest of those rather tedious people; is not this one more instance of the same thing, “the dying god”?

"When I first, after childhood, read the Gospels, I was full of that stuff about the dying god, The Golden Bough, and so on. It was to me then a very poetic, and mysterious, and quickening idea; and when I turned to the Gospels never will I forget my disappointment and repulsion at finding hardly anything about it at all. The metaphor of the seed dropping into the ground in this connection occurs (I think) twice in the New Testament... and for the rest hardly any notice is taken; it seemed to me extraordinary. You had a dying God, Who was always representative of the corn: you see Him holding the corn, that is, bread, in His hand, and saying, “This is My Body, and from my point of view, as I then was, He did not seem to realize what He was saying. Surely there, if anywhere, this connection between the Christian story and the corn must have come out; the whole context is crying out for it." 

Lewis loved mythology and his knowledge of it was extensive.  He was well acquainted with The Golden Bough by Sir James Frazer (and assumed that we would be too!) which talked a lot about the myth of a god who would come to earth, die, and then return to the realm of the gods. This sacrificial "scapegoat" was sometimes referred to as the Corn King, because his death and rebirth was reminiscent of the cycle of planting, and harvest of grain, which then returns in the spring. (Americans call it wheat, the British call it corn.)

The Corn King has many different names across different cultures:
Greece: Adonis or Bacchus
Egypt: Osiris
Babylonians and Sumerian: Tammuz 
Persians: Mithras
Scandinavia: Balder*

This was actually a stumbling block for Lewis at first because he thought that Jesus of Nazareth must be simply the Jewish version of the Corn King myth.  It wasn't until his conversation with J. R. R. Tolkien and Hugo Dyson on Addison’s Walk that Lewis's perspective changed and he began to accept the story of Jesus as Truth. You see, Tolkien was actually the one who suggested that perhaps the reason Christ sounded so much like the Corn King myth was that Christ was the myth that became fact.

Lewis wrote about this in several places, including some already mentioned here on the blog.

So in "The Grand Miracle", Lewis writes, “The story of the Incarnation is the story of a descent and resurrection. When I say “resurrection” here, I am not referring simply to the first few hours, or the first few weeks of the Resurrection. I am talking of this whole, huge pattern of descent, down, down, and then up again.”

He then proceeds to paint a picture of a someone diving to the bottom of the sea, "into the mud and slime" to get something, and when he comes back to the surface he is holding the thing in his hand that he went down to get: "This thing is human nature; but, associated with it, all  Nature, the new universe."
...the Christian story is precisely the story of one grand miracle, the Christian assertion being that what is beyond all space and time, which is uncreated, eternal, came into Nature, into human nature, descended into His own universe, and rose again, bringing Nature up with Him. It is precisely one great miracle. If you take that away there is nothing specifically Christian left." - C. S. Lewis, “The Grand Miracle,” God in the Dock

*In Surprised by Joy, C. S. Lewis describes key moments of deep longing (Sehnsucht) in his life, one of which came through these lines of Tegnner's Drapa:

I heard a voice that cried
Balder the beautiful
Is dead, is dead---

"I knew nothing about Balder; but instantly I was uplifted into huge regions of northern sky, I desired with almost sickening intensity something never to be described." - CSL, Surprised by Joy


In response to the 31 Day blogging challenge, I will be posting every day in October. You can read previous posts HERE. Follow me on Facebook and/or Twitter to be notified of new posts. You can also Subscribe to get posts sent to you by email. (There is a simple form towards the top on the right where you can do this.)

Feel free to comment with your own thoughts and questions!

Index of Posts:
Day 1: 31 Days of C. S. Lewis (Introduction)
Day 2. C. S. Lewis on Longing (In "The Weight of Glory")
Day 3. C. S. Lewis on Sehnsucht (Longing and Desire in The Weight of Glory)
Day 4. C. S. Lewis Audio Recordings
Day 5: C. S. Lewis Online Resources
Day 6: C. S. Lewis: The Intolerable Compliment (The Problem of Pain)
Day 7: C. S. Lewis: What is "The Weight of Glory"?
Day 8: C. S. Lewis: The Great Divorce and The Weight of Glory
Day 9: C. S. Lewis: A Grief Observed
Day 10: C. S. Lewis, Myth, and Postmodernism
Day 11: C. S. Lewis, Myth, and Postmodernism (Part 2)
Day 12: C. S. Lewis and Postmodernism (Part 3 - Conclusion)

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