Just submitted a paper proposal to the International Congress on Medieval Studies, Kalamazoo, MI, 2011, for a session sponsored by the Purdue C S Lewis Society. Whether or not it includes me, this session will be a historic event: as long as I or the convener can remember, Kzoo has done without even a single C S Lewis paper.
This is quite odd, given that, in the words of Norman Cantor, “Of all the medievalists of the twentieth century, Lewis and Tolkien have gained incomparably the greatest audience.” I’ve seen lots of Tolkien sessions at Kzoo, but nary a Lewis session.
Wish me luck . . .
ABSTRACT: The Intuitive Medievalism of C S Lewis
Lewis did not set out to be a medievalist, but from early in his life—before his conversion—medieval thinking and values drew him inexorably, eventually forming his deepest commitments. This is what allowed him to claim in his inaugural lecture as Cambridge Professor of Medieval and Renaissance Literature that he was a “dinosaur”—among the last of his kind in a time that had forgotten the wisdom that joined pagans of the classical period to Christians of the medieval and renaissance period . . . and even to Jane Austen . . . but that by the twentieth century had been dismissed as otiose.
C S Lewis’s medievalism stemmed from childhood reading of many imaginative and historical works in his father’s house, and of the classics under his tutor Kirkpatrick; from his voracious adolescent absorption of Norse myths (on which he rhapsodized in letters to Arthur Greeves); from his thorough and repeated reading of Dante; from his appreciation for the medievalist romantics of previous generations—William Morris and his ilk.
Lewis’s intuitive medievalism animated his spirited defense of natural law. It suffused his imaginative writings—in their imagery, their characterizations, and even their hidden structure. It led him, via Augustine, to a eudaemonistic ethic and apologetic. It drove his visceral reactions against the many ugly faces of modernity, including especially philosophical materialism and moral relativism. It led him to read deeply in medieval mystics, to recommend them often to those who wrote to him for spiritual advice, and to practice such venerable spiritual disciplines as meditation, frequent prayer, fasting, simplicity, solitude, submission, service, confession to a priest, frequent enjoyment of the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, and confession and submission to a spiritual director.
What I mean by “intuitive” is illumined by a favorite image of Lewis’s: he looked “along the sunbeam” of the medieval mind rather than looking at it: he enjoyed medieval values for what they were and what they revealed, rather than contemplating them as objects. This paper will explore the often unrecognized depth and breadth of that intuitive medieval influence in Lewis’s thought and works.
NOTE: This paper will draw from research for my forthcoming book from Baker Book House, Medieval Wisdom for Modern Christians, which draws on Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, Charles Williams, and Dorothy L. Sayers as modern guides into a usable medieval past.