Tuesday, July 31, 2007

On Thomas and the Worth of Proving God's Existence

I've been reading Thomas Aquinas's Summa Theologiae with some worthy interlocutors, and we've come to Thomas's famous Five Ways in which he seeks to establish the rationality of God's existence. He asserts that, if follow what we know about creation, we can establish the existence of a Creator. He finds a biblical warrant for this endeavor in Paul's words from Romans 1.20, "Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made." Consequently, Thomas seeks to prove that God is the ultimate proper cause of change, the efficient causal series, generation, degrees of being, and order

Good enough, I suppose, although I won't go into the merits (or lacks) or these arguments in this post. But I wonder how important these proofs are. I tend to believe that proofs for God are never decisive for belief--we have faith in God for other reasons. Or to quote Pascal, "The heart has reasons that reason knows nothing of." They never in fact take us to the God who is really worthy of belief, but a First Cause, or a Governor of the Universe. Nonetheless, proofs for God do help us realize that faith is not irrational--or more strongly, that faith is not against reason. With the proper respect for their limitations, proofs of God's existence serve a useful, if not ultimate, function. So I guess that means I'll keep reading Thomas and his Summa.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Lewis's Final Letter

All right, just one more thought on CSL… Interestingly, I’ve also discovered some elements about C.S. Lewis that can only come through letters—an art that’s now lost in a world of email. I’ve found a Lewis that was astoundingly literate and could quote by memory Latin poetry (to those for whom it meant something). I’ve found someone who always crafted sparkling prose even in incidental writing. He carried deeply about great literature, and (now I’m thinking of a recent post) someone who didn’t think of life as rational without remainder. He knew the power of story.

We desperately need that sensitivity to good literature, style, and narrative among Christian writers today. I lament what appears as good writing from Church! And that brings me back to a lament for Lewis: When I arrived at the letters that marked the final weeks of his life, I glimpsed the signs of the end—a failing heart and even, at times, a bit less clarity in that amazingly brilliant mind. And yet I never got the sense that he resisted death or that its foreboding presence embittered him. In fact, his last letter, written the day before he died, he responded to a young reader, Philip Thompson, about latter’s interest in The Magician’s Nephew. “May I congratulate you on writing such a remarkably good letter; I certainly could not have written it at your age.”

J.R.R. Tolkien once remarked that the only reason The Lord of the Rings got published was Lewis’s “sheer encouragement.” And if there’s a magic about Lewis, it was certainly his ability to encourage others in their writing even when his life was coming to a close. The voice still speaks to me.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Walking with St. Clive, Part One

I surprised myself by pursuing one odd habit recently—reading the entire collected corpus of C. S. Lewis’s letters from 1950-1963. Besides noting my own idiosyncrasy, I also realized something in the process of reading these 1500 pages of epistles: I have walked with a mentor through significant events in his life and even with him to his death.

Through these words, I’ve seen him in a remarkable array of situations. To note just a few examples: he became increasingly well-known, perhaps even “famous” (although that definitely happened after he died) as The Chronicles of Narnia saw the light in the early ‘50s. I traveled with him through meeting, then marrying, and then experiencing the death of Joy Davidman. (And, by the way, his famous “crisis of faith” after Joy’s death seems overwrought—he wrote letters replying to various theological and philosophical queries within a couple of days.) And I read his final letter, written the day before he died—a reply to a young reader who had enjoyed Narnia.

Since there’s a fair amount of Lewis worship going on in Christian circles, I probably should add that what becomes clear from these letters the imperfections of Clive Staples Lewis—and that he clearly recognized his flaws. That fact has made the journey with him all the more remarkable. More on that in future posts…