Energy within the Blood: True Faith and Transformation in C.S. Lewis’ Until We Have Faces


I’ve been reflecting on Until We Have Faces and all of the various things we may focus on. There’s extra to say about Greek philosophy and the way it’s mirrored within the guide, and in regards to the Christian symbolism and nature of fantasy that Lewis smuggled in, or in regards to the fixed dualities which change into, time and again, unifications. However I’m afraid we’d find yourself with extra phrases than the guide has itself, so I’ve determined to restrict myself to 2 extra articles. In two weeks, we’ll discover how Lewis’ views of ladies shifted and altered through the years, and the way this guide is, in some ways, a rebuttal to his personal earlier views.

However first, this week we’re going to speak about an underlying theme of Until We Have Faces: Lewis’ ideas about how a real faith should perform.

I’ll point out one apparent factor to start out: Lewis believes that the truest religions will need to have mysticism on the core. That is true in all his books. Nobody adjustments with out assembly Aslan, or recognizing Maleldil, or getting on the bus to Heaven. Lewis cared deeply about theology and wished Christians to “get it proper” in what they believed. However on the finish of the day a very powerful factor (the one vital factor?) was seeing God “nose to nose.” For Lewis, it was the transformational second, the paranormal expertise, of assembly Christ (Aslan, and many others.) that shaped the core of true religion. Clearly that is true in Until We Have Faces, as Psyche after which ultimately Orual change into one thing larger than human after interacting with the gods.

Now, let’s take a look at a speech Lewis as soon as gave to some younger clergymen. We’re going to take a look at a decent-sized chunk of it, and apologies prematurely for a number of the methods Lewis talks about different religions in addition to tribal peoples (the phrase “savages” is used, amongst different issues which will reveal he knew rather less about some religions than he thought). You possibly can learn all the speech right here when you like.

We’ll begin the place Lewis is speaking about the right way to discover a faith that’s true. Which is to say, not only a set of beliefs, however one thing that we may take a look at and say, “That is actual and sincere and insightful.” One thing that’s the product of precise mystical union with God, not merely a assemble of perception.

He begins by saying this:

I’ve typically advised my viewers that the one two issues actually price contemplating are Christianity and Hinduism. (Islam is barely the best of the Christian heresies, Buddhism solely the best of the Hindu heresies. Actual paganism is useless. All that was greatest in Judaism and Platonism survives in Christianity.) There isn’t actually, for an grownup thoughts, this infinite number of religions to contemplate.

A few notes. We’re fairly used to considering of Islam as a totally completely different faith than Christianity, nevertheless it was frequent in Lewis’ day (and nonetheless in lots of scholarly circles) to discuss with it as a heresy of Christianity. In different phrases, it’s an offshoot of Christianity the place the beliefs of the Christian phase moved away from orthodox theologies to change into one thing else. (A lot in the identical method that Christianity may very well be known as a heresy of Judaism.) Lewis’ suggestion right here is that Islam just isn’t extra true than Christianity, however much less. He additionally sees Buddhism as a heretical offshoot of Hinduism, and is saying primarily the identical factor (“Any fact in Buddhism might be seen maybe extra clearly in Hinduism” or one thing to that impact.)

“Actual paganism is useless” is such a delightfully Lewisian factor to say that I laughed once I first learn it. Lewis beloved (historical) paganism a lot. It’s humorous as a result of many orthodox Christians are vehemently against paganism, historical or fashionable, however we’ve to do not forget that Lewis noticed himself as one who had come to Christ by means of paganism. His love of fantasy and Greek gods and Norse mythology was the pathway towards Christianity for him. It’s one of many causes he may write a novel about Greek fantasy and by no means as soon as point out Christ (or perhaps a singular supreme being) after which be stunned that the Christian group by no means embraced the guide the identical method that they did, say, The Screwtape Letters. In any case, his level right here is that whereas there could also be issues like Wicca or neopaganism (he was certainly conscious of those), in his opinion there was nothing like “true paganism” anymore. Little question he means one thing way more alongside the traces of Merlin in That Hideous Power.

“All that was greatest in Judaism and Platonism survives in Christianity.” Whereas he dismisses Islam and Buddhism as mere heresies, Lewis sees the Christian departure from Judaism as a power (as we’d count on). Christianity, in his view, held on to essentially the most useful bits of Judaism. The Platonism bit is attention-grabbing. We’ve talked earlier than about how Lewis was enthralled by the neo-Platonism of Charles Williams, to the purpose that it distressed J.R.R. Tolkien. However there’s a protracted historical past of Christians within the West dragging Platonic thought into their theology, from Justin Martyr to Augustine and straight by means of the medieval interval to as we speak. I suppose Lewis is mentioning it to level out that Platonic philosophy alone was inferior to what it may very well be when included into Christianity.

After which, in his final sentence, he says, “There isn’t actually, for an grownup thoughts, this infinite number of religions to contemplate.” Inform us what you actually suppose, Jack! This might sound dismissive (or relatively, this appears dismissive as a result of it’s), however do not forget that Lewis is talking to a “pleasant” viewers of ministers. He’s not attempting to transform anybody, and expects that everybody within the viewers already more-or-less agrees with him. He’s not establishing an argument right here a lot as laying out the frequent floor he has with the individuals listening. In any case, he then involves the meat of what we’re going to look at this week:

We could salva reverentia divide religions, as we do soups, into “thick” and “clear.” By thick I imply these which have orgies and ecstasies and mysteries and native attachments: Africa is filled with thick religions. By clear I imply these that are philosophical, moral, and universalizing: Stoicism, Buddhism, and the Moral Church are clear religions. Now if there’s a true faith, it have to be each thick and clear: for the true God will need to have made each the kid and the person, each the savage and the citizen, each the pinnacle and the stomach. And the one two religions that fulfil this situation are Hinduism and Christianity.

Okay, so each faith in line with Lewis might be divided into one in all two camps: The “thick” religions and the “clear” religions. A puree or a broth. Clear religions are religions of the thoughts: “philosophical, moral, and universalizing.” (Notice that he particularly mentions Stoicism. The Fox is a Stoic, and we see him offered constantly earlier than his loss of life as a thinker first, to the purpose that the gods usually are not individuals however useful constructs for philosophy). Thick religions have “orgies and ecstasies and mysteries and native attachments.” He says, unhelpfully, that “Africa is filled with thick religions.” Clearly Lewis hasn’t spent a lot time finding out African non secular observe…he’s picturing a stereotypical tribal faith stuffed with fires and witch medical doctors and sacrifices. We may in all probability do an entire article digging into that, however let’s set that apart and give attention to what Lewis is attempting to get at…he sees some religions as primarily mental, and others as primarily visceral.

A faith that falls into simply a kind of classes, he says, can’t be true. There are good issues, useful issues, about each. However every is lacking the reality the opposite has. So a real faith should “be each thick and clear.” And his conclusion is that the one two religions that really have each are Christianity and Hinduism. He goes on to elucidate why Hinduism doesn’t do it in addition to Christianity, after which says this about Christian religion: “It takes a convert from Central Africa and tells him to obey an enlightened universalist ethic: it takes a twentieth-century educational prig like me and tells me to go fasting to a thriller, to drink the blood of the Lord. The savage convert needs to be clear: I’ve to be thick. That’s how one is aware of one has come to the actual faith.”

Once more, laying apart Lewis’ less-than-educated conception of African tribal ethics and faith, his level is {that a} true faith will need to have each “enlightened universalist ethics” in addition to one thing visceral: Sacrifice. Blood. It’s when somebody like Lewis—the “civilized” Oxford don—takes communion and says “I’m consuming a blood sacrifice” that we see a real faith in motion.

In case you’ve learn Until We Have Faces not too long ago, you in all probability already see how this idea works as a form of key to the novel. The primary priest of Ungit, when he involves the king and says that Psyche have to be sacrificed, is opposed by the Fox and Orual. They’re arguing towards the barbarity of it. Declaring the inconsistencies within the priest’s theology and tales. The priest “is speaking nonsense.” The priest is saying that the god is a beast however a shadow, a mom and son, a girl and her lover, and the sacrifice have to be the worst individual but additionally with out flaw. It is not sensible to the thinker or ethicist: “A baby of six would discuss extra sense.”

The priest of Ungit just isn’t shaken. He factors out that the subtleties of Greek philosophy carry nothing concrete (rain or crops) however that sacrifice will. Greek philosophy doesn’t even create males who’re stuffed with braveness (didn’t the Fox do the cowardly factor in a battle and thus change into a slave?). No, in line with the priest, “Holy locations are darkish locations. It’s life and power, not data and phrases, that we get in them. Holy knowledge just isn’t clear and skinny like water, however thick and darkish like blood.”

So there we go—the priest makes use of the precise phrases Lewis did. And we see this all through the novel, represented most overtly within the first priest of Ungit and the Fox. The priest is all blood and ritual. Heaps are forged. Human sacrifices have to be made often, however animal sacrifice is simply part of worship, for the gods are holy and thirsty for blood and have to be obeyed. In the meantime, the Fox doesn’t suppose the gods exist in any significant sense. They’re stand-ins to assist the ignorant perceive the philosophical underpinnings of the ethical world. Mind, concept, studying, data are what issues. Every part else is superstition.

Psyche, who grew up beneath the care of the Fox, is bowled over when she meets and converses with the previous priest. She tells Orual:

The Priest has been with me. I by no means knew him earlier than. He’s not what the Fox thinks. Have you learnt, Sister, I’ve come to really feel an increasing number of that the Fox hasn’t the entire fact. Oh, he has a lot of it. It’d be darkish as a dungeon inside me however for his instructing. And but… I can’t say it correctly. He calls the entire world a metropolis. However what’s a metropolis constructed on? There’s earth beneath. And out of doors the wall? Doesn’t all of the meals come from there in addition to all the risks?… issues rising and rotting, strengthening and poisoning, issues shining moist… in a technique (I don’t know which method) extra like, sure, much more just like the Home of [Ungit].

Psyche instantly acknowledges one thing true within the priest’s faith. And she or he’s the primary within the guide to know that she wants each the thinker and the priest. She embraces them each instantly, and so she goes to fulfill not the Beast, however the Lover. She acknowledges the gods for what they’re when first she has alternative to fulfill them.

Notice that the second priest of Ungit, a youthful man, is deeply within the Fox, nonetheless—he jettisons the previous methods to undertake a brand new, Greek model of the worship of Ungit. He doesn’t mesh the 2, he turns the Home of Ungit right into a home of Greek philosophy with a brand new goddess full with a brand new and extra lovely Ungit statue and a brand new method of doing issues.

Orual sees a girl who comes into the home and nonetheless pours a little bit of blood on the previous stone of Ungit, she asks her if she all the time prays to the previous Ungit, and the girl tells her, ““That different, the Greek Ungit, she wouldn’t perceive my speech. She’s just for nobles and realized males. There’s no consolation in her.” The brand new priest has failed to include the clear into the thick; he has merely exchanged one for the opposite.

The Fox learns his lesson about thick and clear, however not till after he dies. As soon as he comes nose to nose with the gods he realizes (as Psyche had steered) that his worldview was perilously slender. The Fox even turns into a form of information for Orual, taking her by means of the underworld and displaying her issues she wouldn’t perceive with out him. He apologizes profusely for having led her astray together with his personal ideas when he was dwelling.

Orual realizes in her visions of the gods that she is somebody completely different than she thought. She thought she was enlightened, however she learns as an alternative that she “is Ungit.” Horrible, ugly, blood-gorged Ungit, who she hates. And Psyche, who’s on the highway to godhood, is working to make Ungit lovely. Orual, confused and pissed off, is advised that she may also change into Psyche.

I believe this is part of the novel that’s complicated for lots of people. This simply means we’re in the identical place as Orual. Her first thought is, “To say that I used to be Ungit meant that I used to be as ugly in soul as she; grasping, blood-gorged. But when I practised true philosophy, as Socrates meant it, I ought to change my ugly soul into a good one. And this, the gods serving to me, I’d do. I’d set about it directly.”

She thinks if she doubles down on the clear faith, it’ll remodel her and make her lovely. However it gained’t. It doesn’t.

What Orual wants, in actuality, is 2 issues: She should embrace the horrible actuality that sacrifice is critical; she has to simply accept what has occurred to her sister…the truth is, she discovers that she has begun to take part in that sacrifice, taking over her sister’s struggling and thus starting the method of “turning into” her. She has to “change into thick,” in Lewis’ phrases. And she or he should, as soon as she sees herself clearly, come finally into mystical communion with the gods. She should see them and herself as they honestly are.

Psyche brings the magical casket from the underworld that may make Ungit lovely, and it’s Orual who’s reworked. Or, not precisely. It’s Orual’s imaginative and prescient of herself that’s reworked and he or she realizes she has all the time been lovely. She has been wooed by the gods simply as certainly and simply so long as Psyche has.

She has died earlier than she died, in order that she would possibly stay and change into her true self. Psyche is a goddess now, however much more, Psyche had change into her “true self.” As Orual/Ungit takes the casket, she got here “to the best, and to the utmost fullness of being which the human soul can include.”

And now voices started to say that the god was coming to guage her.

Orual seems to be down right into a pool of water and sees herself: “Two figures, reflections, their ft to Psyche’s ft and mine, stood head downward within the water. However whose had been they? Two Psyches, the one clothed, the opposite bare? Sure, each Psyches, each lovely (if that mattered now) past all imagining, but not precisely the identical.”

When the god comes and pronounces his judgment of Orual, it’s each easy and complicated. He seems to be on Orual and says solely these 4 phrases, “You are also Psyche.” The god has spoken. The god has answered all her questions. She sees herself finally, she sees the god clearly finally, and he or she learns what she has by no means as soon as dared to suppose her whole life: she is gorgeous, and the god loves her.

We don’t see the whole lot that comes subsequent, although it’s clear if we cease to consider the guide or Lewis’ theology for a second. Orual has died, and now should die once more (she does…her previous physique provides out just a few days after this ultimate imaginative and prescient). After which, having embraced true faith, she is going to marry the Beast, the son of Aphrodite, Cupid, the god and be “united with the Divine Nature.” She just isn’t solely Orual, in any case…she can also be Psyche.

Matt Mikalatos is the writer of the YA fantasy The Crescent Stone. You possibly can observe him on Twitter or join on Fb.


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