When Ransom went to Mars, the scales fell off his eyes. Dante had a similar experience in going to the third heaven. So did the Apostle Paul. Lucifer didn’t, however.
We frequently overlook that C. S. Lewis held the chair of medieval and renaissance studies at Cambridge. He understood the medieval model of the universe. He saw what Dante saw in going further up—and what Lucifer didn’t. Lewis describes it in The Discarded Image.
Few folks have read this book. The good news is Lewis wrote fantasy literature in tandem with his scholarly works (e.g. The Discarded Image). The Ransom Trilogy is to reawaken us to the “heavens” (as opposed to our concept of “space”). It also reminds us of how we often conflate the “heavens” with the One True Heaven.
Out Of The Silent Planet is the first book in the trilogy. It parallels Dante’s Inferno where a Pilgrim is “midway along the journey of life.” Out Of The Silent Planet begins with Ransom. His determined stride indicates he realizes “that he will have to walk farther than he intended.”
Much farther. Ransom is taken to Mars. There, he begins to sense that “a nightmare was falling off him.” The scales begin falling from Ransom’s eyes. But what nightmare is Lewis referring to?
He describes it in The Discarded Image. The nightmare is looking out to the universe, then in and only seeing what “Meredith’s Lucifer” saw—“the army of unalterable law.” This is a reference to a little-known poem, “Lucifer in Starlight,” penned by George Meredith in 1883.
On a starred night Prince Lucifer uprose.
Tired of his dark dominion swung the fiend
Above the rolling ball in cloud part screened,
Where sinners hugged their spectre of repose.
Poor prey to his hot fit of pride were those.
And now upon his western wing he leaned,
Now his huge bulk o’er Afric’s sands careened,
Now the black planet shadowed Arctic snows.
Soaring through wider zones that pricked his scars
With memory of the old revolt from Awe,
He reached a middle height, and at the stars,
Which are the brain of heaven, he looked, and sank.
Around the ancient track marched, rank on rank,
The army of unalterable law.
The poem begins Lucifer rising up from the hell he’s been damned to after revolting against God. Tired of his “dark dominion,” he flies up above the earth. The clouds partially “screen” us from Lucifer, so we unknowingly hug this hideous “spectre.” We fall prey to his evil wiles.
Lucifer’s chief deception is apparent when he tries to soar to Heaven. He can only reach the stars. His heart sinks. Forced back to earth, Lucifer looks in. He sees only the army of unalterable law. Law. He doesn’t go further in, to the deepest reality of the universe. Love.
We must go further up. Then, as Lewis wrote, we’ll “not see, like Meredith’s Lucifer, the army of unalterable law.” We’ll look further in, seeing “the revelry of insatiable love.” Love is at the center of the universe. We see why the gospel is best depicted in marital love, nuptial union.
We’re not saying law is bad. It’s not. We’re saying “love is the fulfillment of the law” (Rom.13:10). Law is not the fulfillment of love. Many of today’s Christians overlook this. They see the cross of Christ as primarily substitutionary atonement for sin. It’s not.
Older Christians traditions see the cross as when we were betrothed to Christ. When I told my friend about this, the scales began to fall from his eyes. “This changes everything.” He’s right.
I was taking my friend further up so he’d see further in, to the center of the universe. To see love and the gospel as Jesus “marrying” us. To see we’re betrothed at the cross.
But that’s next week. For now, if today’s post is a little disorienting, remember that we began this series on February 10th. Might want to return to that post first.
Be sure to check out the latest Clapham podcast: https://claphaminstitute.podbean.com/