A to Z with C.S. Lewis: I is for Influence — The City Online - Houston Baptist University

A to Z with C.S. Lewis: I is for Influence

by Lou Markos on November 20, 2012

C. S. Lewis was the greatest Christian apologist of the 20th century.  But he defended far more than Christ and the Bible.  In addition to championing the Christian worldview, he was an advocate for that period of history when all of Europe embraced the faith: the Middle Ages.

Rather than accept 200 years of Enlightenment propaganda that had dismissed the Middle Ages as a time of darkness, ignorance, and superstition, Lewis called on his readers to take a second look at the medieval period.  In his fiction, his non-fiction, and his academic books and essays, Lewis consistently presented the Middle Ages as a positive era in which society was galvanized by a unified vision of God, man, and the universe.

In one of those academic books, The Discarded Image, Lewis even took the time to lay out the medieval model of the universe.  Whereas our age views the universe merely as our house, the Medievals considered it their home.  They often referred to it by its Greek name (cosmos), for the word cosmos connotes something about the heavens that is absent from the Latin “universe.”

Cosmos shares the same Greek root as cosmetics: a root that means “ornament.”  Just as cosmetics are used to ornament the face of a woman, so the Medievals viewed the cosmos as the ornament of God.  It showed forth God’s glory, beauty, and splendor, even as man himself does.

As God is ordered and harmonious so is his cosmos.  The Medieval who looked up at the night sky, Lewis explains, reveled in the intricate balance of the heavens, which he believed stretched above him in a series of perfect concentric circles.  Each of the seven “planets” (Moon, Mercury, Venus, Sun, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn) was fixed in a crystalline sphere, and as the planets spun in their eternal orbits, they produced a celestial music known as the music of the spheres.  Alas, though that heavenly melody plays all around us, our ears have grown to dull to hear it.

And as each planet turned in its sphere, it cast down a heavenly influence that produced metals in the earth and imprinted a personality type upon those born beneath its cosmic revolutions.  Thus, while the moon produced silver and inspired lunacy, and Venus produced copper and made men amorous, Mars drew iron out of the ground and inspired a martial spirit in those on whom it shed its influence.  (In his fine book, Planet Narnia, Michael Ward argues, convincingly, that the seven Chronicles of Narnia are patterned, in part, after the influences of the seven planets.)

Though such a notion may seem absurd to citizens of the modern world, we must not forget that most people today believe that a microscopic strand of information known as DNA determines everything about our life and character.  Now it is true that there were some superstitious Medievals (as there still are today) who believed that the stars controlled our fates, but that was not the official view.  For most believers, it was up to us to receive the influence properly.

A woman born under Venus could be a passionate wife or a reckless harlot; a man born under Mars could be a knight or a warlord.  Even so, the same sun that makes clay hard and brittle makes wax soft and pliable.  Though Lewis did not advocate a simple return to the medieval notion of influence, he encouraged his readers to take seriously their interactions with the cosmos and to choose wisely how they used the gifts and personalities that were given to them.

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