The Discarded Image

CS Lewis is the subject of Carol  Zaleski’s  recent piece “Our Augustine” in The Christian Century. The occasion is the upcoming 50th anniversary of Lewis’s death, which will coincide with the dedication of a memorial to Lewis in Poets’ Corner, Westminster Abbey.

Most widely known as the creator of Narnia, Lewis was a smart convert to Christianity. In an age such as ours, when an individual must claim the intellectual basis for religious faith in a willful protest against the fundamental materialist assumptions of the wider culture, Lewis’s achievement endures. He thinks through religious disbelief, revealing its thinness and its holes, and emerges on the side of mystery. He comes out this way not through fuzzy thinking or gauzy sentiments, but through the clear light of reason.

Zaleski refers to a lesser-known collection of Lewis essays entitled The Discarded Image.  Her characterization of the “image” is this: it’s a “comprehensive vision of the universe as an ordered whole filled with meaning, knit together by an inner telos, and of the human person as a rational creature made in the image and likeness of God, fallen and redeemed.”

Much can be said about the meaning of this image, and the cosmos it describes. Among other things, the human being belongs in this cosmos, and has a special role to play in the working out of God’s purpose. Human life has meaning as part of the larger whole—a whole which, in Dante’s vision of heaven, is held by divine Love and unfolds as a Rose.

 We do not hold this image today—it has been, as the title of Lewis’s essays suggests, discarded; it has been replaced—at least in Western consumer culture— by the image of the human being as a bundle of appetites to be satisfied. Do not despair, however: it has always been this way. We have made idols since before the time of Moses. Every age needs a Lewis to remind us of the image in which we are made, and the life for which we are worthy.

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