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Praeparatio Evangelica—or Daemonica? C. S. Lewis and Anders Nygren on Spiritual Longing*

  • Jason Lepojärvi (a1)
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C. S. Lewis read Anders Nygren's Agape and Eros in his mid-thirties, probably during the Christmas holiday of 1934. His first recorded thoughts, including the statement above, are from a letter dated “Jan 8th 1935” to his Oxford colleague Janet Spens. Despite his decisive criticism of what he calls Nygren's “central contrast”—that agape is selfless and eros self-regarding—Lewis ends this letter with a declaration of uncertainty: “However, I must tackle him again. He has shaken me up extremely.” It is remarkable, then, that Nygren is not mentioned by name in Lewis's The Four Loves (1960). Lewis's opening remarks on his theology of love, which do not directly refer to Nygren, “are critical of Nygren's main thesis in Agape and Eros.”

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For longsuffering help in the form of written and oral feedback on earlier drafts of this article, the author would like to thank Judith Wolfe, Aku Visala, Michael Ward, Bruce R. Johnson, Rope Kojonen, Iisa Lepojärvi, Jussi Ruokomäki, Richard Lyne, and Werner Jeanrond.

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1 Lewis C. S., Collected Letters (ed. Hooper Walter; 3 vols.; London: HarperCollins, 2000–2006) 2:153.

2 The Swedish original of Nygren's Agape and Eros was published in two parts in 1930 and 1936, and the English translation in three volumes: in 1932 (Part 1), 1938 (Part 2, vol. 1), and 1939 (Part 2, vol. 2), and finally as a revised one-volume edition in 1953. Lewis was referring to Part 1, since Part 2 had not been published, and it remains unclear whether he ever read Part 2. Hereafter all citations are from the one-volume Harper & Row edition (1969), a reprint of the 1953 edition, and are abbreviated AE (page references to this book appear in parentheses in the text).

3 Simon Caroline, “On Love,” in The Cambridge Companion to C. S. Lewis (ed. MacSwain Robert and Ward Michael; Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2010) 146–59, at 154.

4 Lewis, Collected Letters, 2:154 n. 3.

5 Lewis C. S., The Four Loves (London: Geoffrey Bles, 1960) 9. Hereafter FL (page references to this book appear in parentheses in the text).

6 Demant V. A., “Four Loves,” review of The Four Loves, by Lewis C. S., Frontier (Spring 1960) 207–209, at 207. Another theologically astute reviewer that same year found it “interesting to compare Anders Nygren's concept of agape with Lewis’ view of charity” and notes that “Nygren does not consider, as does Lewis, that God might create within himself a need for our love so that we can enter more fully into communion with him” (Donald G. Bloesch, “Love Illuminated,” review of The Four Loves, by C. S. Lewis, Christian Century [14 December 1960] 1470).

7 Pieper Josef, Faith, Hope, Love (trans. Richard and Clara Winston; San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1997) 210. Pieper calls Nygren the most influential “representative” of this prevailing atmosphere of thought instead of its “augurer,” because several theologians in the 1920’s and 1930’s were juxtaposing “eros” and “Christian love” (variously understood): e.g., Heinrich Scholz in Eros und Caritas (1929) and Emil Brunner in Eros und Liebe (1937). Nygren's book has had “almost incalculable influence, although it itself may well spring from an idea that has always been present in Christendom” (Pieper, Love, 211).

8 Meilaender Gilbert, The Taste for the Other: The Social and Ethical Thought of C. S. Lewis (2nd ed.; Vancouver: Regent College, 2003) 5657.

9 O'Donovan Oliver, “Foreword to the 1991 Edition,” in Burnaby John, Amor Dei: A Study of the Religion of St. Augustine (1938; repr., Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2007) v–vii, at v.

10 Risto Saarinen, “Eros, leikki ja normi: Rakkauden fundamentaaliteologiaa,” Teologinen aikakauskirja (Finnish Theological Journal) (2006) 167–77, at 172 n. 15.

11 Lewis, Collected Letters, 3:538 [italics in original].

12 Ibid., 3:980.

13 Meilaender, Taste for the Other, 57.

14 Chesterton G. K., Saint Thomas Aquinas (1933; repr., New York: Doubleday, 2001) 109.

15 Lewis C. S., The Problem of Pain (London: HarperCollins, 1998, 1st ed. 1940) 35. After strongly affirming the doctrine of God's impassibility, Lewis suddenly “backs off” (Nicholas Wolterstorff, “C. S. Lewis on the Problem of Suffering,” The Chronicle of the Oxford University C. S. Lewis Society [2010] 3–20, at 5). Lewis then almost qualifies this doctrine: “Hence, if God sometimes speaks as though the Impassible could suffer passion and eternal fullness could be in want, and in want of those beings on whom it bestows all from their bare existence upwards, this can only mean, if it means anything intelligible by us, that God of mere miracle has made himself able so to hunger and created in Himself that which we can satisfy. . . . Before and behind all the relations of God to man, as we now learn them from Christianity, yawns the abyss of a Divine act of pure giving—the election of man, from nonentity, to be the beloved of God, and therefore (in some sense) the needed and desired of God, who but for that act needs and desires nothing” (Problem of Pain, 35–36 [italics added]).

16 Meilaender, Taste for the Other, 59: “When we begin to ask what Lewis means by divine gift-love we encounter a dizzying variety of formulations.”

17 Burnaby, Amor Dei, 16.

18 Seven of these ten references are found in Lewis's letters: see Collected Letters, 2:147, 153–54, 158, 165; and 3:538, 555, 980. The remaining three are found in his literary magnum opus The Oxford History of English Literature in the Sixteenth Century: Excluding Drama (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1954) 383; his autobiography Surprised by Joy (London: Geoffrey Bles, 1955) 198; and in his review (1938) of Leone Ebreo's The Philosophy of Love, reprinted in Image and Imagination: Essays and Reviews (ed. Walter Hooper; Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2013) 277–80, at 279.

19 Lewis, Surprised by Joy, 207, hereafter abbreviated SJ (page references to this book appear in parentheses in the text).

20 Lewis C. S., The Pilgrim's Regress (1933; repr., London: HarperCollins, 1998) xv, hereafter abbreviated PR (page references to this book appear in parentheses in the text). .

21 A reference to the German poet Novalis's “Blue Flower of Longing.”

22 This is acknowledged in the preface Lewis wrote for the 1950 reprint of the book, cited in Corbin S. Carnell, Bright Shadow: Spiritual Longing in C. S. Lewis (1974; repr., Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1999) 56 n. 17.

23 Lewis C. S., That Hideous Strength (1945; repr., London: HarperCollins, 2005) 448.

24 David C. Downing has described it as “an emotional and spiritual watershed” for Lewis (Into the Region of Awe: Mysticism in C. S. Lewis [Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2005] 38).

25 Lewis C. S., George MacDonald: An Anthology (1946; repr., New York: HarperCollins, 2001) xxxvii.

26 Lewis, George MacDonald, xxxviii–xxxix.

27 Ibid., xxxviii. See also SJ, 171.

28 Carnell, Bright Shadow, 69, 57.

29 A short analysis of the idea of the numinous in the Cosmic Trilogy can be found in Carnell, Bright Shadow, 96–97. For a recent discussion of Das Heilige’s influence on Till We Have Faces see Risto Saarinen, “Natural Moral Law in Mere Christianity and Till We Have Faces: Does Lewis Change His View?” (forthcoming).

30 Burnaby, Amor Dei, 157. The citations are from Augustine's Enarrationes in Psalmos, cxliv. 15.

31 Burnaby, Amor Dei, 96.

32 Ibid., 97. The citation is from Augustine's In Joannis Evangelium Tractatus, 4.6.

33 Augustine, Confessions (trans. Henry Chadwick; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991) 7.23 (127–28).

34 The word “demon” or “demoniac” appears twenty times in The Four Loves. Rather than a literal evil spirit, in Lewis's thinking love-as-a-demon is often a form of idolatry. Especially erotic love may usurp the allegiance that belongs to God only. See Olli-Pekka Vainio, “The Aporia of Using ‘Love’ as an Argument: A Meditation on C. S. Lewis’ The Four Loves,” The Chronicle of the Oxford University C. S. Lewis Society vol. 4 no. 2 (2007) 21–30. Vainio slightly miscalculates (“eighteen times”).

35 Caroline Simon warns that the title of The Four Loves is misleading. Lewis's model includes “at least four different parameters: (1) Love for the Sub-personal versus Love for Finite Persons versus Love for God; (2) Natural Love versus Supernatural Love; (3) Need-love versus Gift-love versus Appreciative Love; (4) Affection versus Friendship versus Eros versus Charity” (“On Love,” 148). These taxonomies should all be taken lightly. Lewis says we “[m]urder to dissect” (Four Loves, 26): in real life the elements of love mix. Elsewhere Lewis salutes Thomas Usk for “his attempt at integration: he is not content with [a] water-tight division of human desires” (The Allegory of Love: A Study in Medieval Tradition [1936; repr., Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986] 227).

36 Beversluis John, C. S. Lewis and the Search for Rational Religion (2nd ed.; Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2007) 38.

37 Dunckel Mona and Rowe Karen, “Understanding C. S. Lewis's Surprised by Joy: ‘A Most Reluctant’ Autobiography,” in C. S. Lewis: Life, Work, and Legacy (ed. Edwards Bruce L.; 4 vols.; Westport, CT: Praegan, 2007) 3:257–78, at 267.

38 Hooper Walter, C. S. Lewis: A Complete Guide to His Life and Works (New York: HarperCollins, 1996) 577–78.

39 “For the essence of religion,” in Lewis's view, “is the thirst for an end higher than natural ends; the finite self's desire for, and acquiescence in, and self-rejection in favour of, an object wholly good and wholly good for it” (“Religion Without Dogma?” in C. S. Lewis: Essay Collection and Other Short Pieces [ed. Lesley Walmsley; London: HarperCollins, 2000] 163–78, at 167).

40 Both types are explained in the Symposium (180D), but only one is promulgated.

41 Lewis, English Literature, 10; see also Allegory of Love, 5 and 97.

42 In Allegory of Love, Lewis quotes Spenser's Nature, who “grudg'd to see the counterfet should shame the thing it selfe” (328).

43 When Lewis discovered “that pleasure (whether that pleasure or any other) was not what you had been looking for,” his “frustration did not consist in finding a ‘lower’ pleasure instead of a ‘higher.’ It was the irrelevance of the conclusion that marred it” (SJ, 161). Lewis clearly believed in a hierarchical order of value present in the universe, even if Joy's relation to it is not hierarchical. See the chapter “Hierarchy” in his A Preface to Paradise Lost (1942; repr., London: Oxford University Press, 2010) 72–81, esp. 72

44 Lewis himself has traced the multifarious meanings of “nature” and “natural” in his Studies in Words (1960; repr., Cambridge: Cambridge University Press: 2008) 24–73.

45 Burnaby's Amor Dei and D'Arcy's The Mind and Heart of Love were the first full-length rebuttals of Nygren's theses.

46 Conflating faith and love is not my doing but Nygren's (see e.g., AE, 117–19, 125–27). As Watson explains, although “the love of man for God of which the New Testament speaks” can be called agape, “its character as response is more clearly marked when it is described (by St. Paul especially) as ‘faith’” (AE, xvi–xvii). Gene Outka also notes how “Nygren proposes that in place of ‘love for God’ one substitute ‘faith’” (Agape: An Ethical Analysis [New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1972] 47).

47 In Surprised by Joy, Lewis says that the lower life of imagination is “not necessarily and by its own nature” the beginning of, nor a step toward, the higher life of the spirit, but “God can cause it to be such a beginning” (159 n. 1).

48 If we are surprised by the direction of this clarification, it is only because we happen to be reading in the post-Lubacian era something that was written in pre-Lubacian times. Ever since the Second Vatican Council, theological landscapes have, if not been turned topsy turvy, been greatly shuffled. While it does not surprise us, it may have surprised Lewis's immediate audience to learn that “Barth might well have been placed among my Pale Men, and Erasmus might have found himself at home with Mr Broad” (PR, xvii).

49 Beversluis, Rational Religion, 57. The preface to the second edition of his book (see footnote 36 above) is no exaggeration: it is still “the first [and only] full-length critical study of C. S. Lewis's apologetic writings” (9). The following page numbers refer to this book.

50 For Lewis, the non- or pre-Christian life is not determined primarily or exclusively by sin, but also by ignorance, misinformedness etc.—not so much that sin is ignorance as that sin is not all defining. I am thankful to Judith Wolfe for insight on Lewis's hamartiology. In Augustine's summary of Christian doctrine (Encheiridion, 22), “the two causes of sin” are ignorance (failure of intellect) and infirmity (failure of will).

51 Beversluis is one of the first to mention Nygren in connection with Lewis viz. the link between eros and Joy. For this perceptiveness he deserves credit. (Another scholar who has contrasted the two is Gilbert Meilaender in his The Way that Leads There: Augustinian Reflections on the Christian Life [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2006], especially the chapter, “Desire.”) Unfortunately, he seems unaware of Lewis's familiarity with, and rejection of, Nygren and his theses. He chides Lewis for his understanding of Joy because it cannot be squared with a certain doctrine of sin—the one Lewis happened to reject. Beversluis concludes his deconstruction of Joy rather unflatteringly: Joy is “a preoccupation . . . we ought to ignore,” “of no importance,” “a narcissistic project,” “a childish thing,” and the “self-important claim that reality [physical nature] is just not up to one's lofty standards is not profundity; it is adolescent disenchantment elevated to cosmic status” (Rational Religion, 67–69).

52 I have elsewhere contrasted this four-fold exposition with Lewis's eros (i.e., romantic love). See Lepojärvi Jason, “Does Eros Seek Happiness? A Critical Analysis of C. S. Lewis's Reply to Anders Nygren,” Neue Zeitschrift für Systematische Theologie und Religionsphilosophi 53 (2011) 208–24.

53 Beversluis, Rational Religion, 42.

54 Hooker Richard, Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity: A Critical Edition with Modern Spelling (ed. McGrade Arthur S.; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013) 83.

55 Beversluis, Rational Religion, 37–38.

56 Lewis, Problem of Pain, 38

57 Augustine, De Civitate Dei, 10.3 (cited in AE, 502).

58 Compare this to Lewis's sermon “The Weight of Glory”: “Those who have attained everlasting life in the vision of God doubtless know very well that it is no mere bribe, but the very consummation of their earthly discipleship” (Essay Collection [ed. Walmsley] 96–106, at 97).

59 Nygren's main worry here, that we “use” God, may be a misunderstanding. According to Burnaby, Nygren's strong suspicion of Augustine's caritas results from miscomprehending uti (“to use”) and frui (“to enjoy”). The legitimate uti-love of creation is real love, not instrumental love. God alone is to be enjoyed, but “God alone is not to be loved. . . . A means which can be loved is not only a means. The keyword is referre ad Deum, ‘relation to God’, and the distinction of uti and frui is merged in the ‘order of love’” (Burnaby, Amor Dei, 106; italics in the original). Creation is “wrongly loved if it is preferred to God” (Ibid., 107). Outka says, “Burnaby takes book-length pains to treat [Augustine] sympathetically” (Outka, Agape, 177).

60 Dunckel and Rowe, “Understanding C. S. Lewis,” 267: “The satisfaction is the desire, not the possession.”

61 After his conversion Lewis largely lost interest in Joy, but for a different reason. Joy “was valuable only as a pointer to something outer and other. While that other was in doubt, the pointer naturally loomed large in my thoughts” (SJ, 224).

62 He continues: “As Bunyan says, describing his first and illusory conversion, ‘I thought there was no man in England that pleased God better than I.’ Beaten out of this, we next offer our own humility to God's admiration. Surely He'll like that? Or if not that, our clear-sighted and humble recognition that we still lack humility” (FL, 148 [italics in original]). See also Simon, “On Love,” 156.

63 Lewis, “Weight of Glory,” in Essay Collection (ed. Walmsley) 96. Defamators of eros, Josef Pieper thinks, bring what he calls “a pretheological conception of man” to the discussion: a fixed anthropology is brought to the study of Scripture instead of finding Scripture's anthropology (Love, 210–11). For a concatenation of Scripture passages that encourage pursuit of happiness and promise reward for godly behavior see Meilaender, The Way, 3–4.

64 Lewis, Collected Letters, 2:153–54; italics in original. See Aristotle, Metaphysics, 1072b (“κινεῖ ὡς ἐρώμενον”).

65 Ibid.

66 Lewis C. S., The Discarded Image: An Introduction to Medieval and Renaissance Literature (1964; repr., Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005, 1st ed. 1964) 113. See also the reference to Aristotle's κινεῖ in Barfield Owen, Saving the Appearances: A Study in Idolatry (2nd ed.; Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1988, 1st ed. 1957) 101. Lewis read this book carefully at draft stage and gave Barfield detailed comments in his long letter dated March 27, 1956, found in Collected Letters 3:724–30.

67 Lewis, Discarded Image, 113–14.

68 Ibid., 114 [italics added, except Comedy].

69 Lewis explains that while there is no contradiction, the antithesis explains why many spiritual writers (unlike Dante) show little interest in the natural order. “Spiritual books are wholly practical in purpose, addressed to those who ask direction. Only the order of Grace is relevant” (Discarded Image, 114).

70 Williams Charles, Arthurian Torso, Containing the Posthumous Fragment of The Figure of Arthur and a Commentary on the Arthurian Poems of Charles Williams by C. S. Lewis (London: Oxford University Press, 1948) 175.

71 Lewis, Allegory of Love, 267.

72 Lewis, “Transposition,” in Essay Collection (ed. Walmsley) 267–78.

73 Ward Michael, Planet Narnia: The Seven Heavens in the Imagination of C. S. Lewis (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008) 105.

74 Not surprisingly, Nygren's model has been consistently criticized for dissolving the human person. Nygren later denied that he wanted to annihilate the agent (Essence of Christianity [trans. Philip S. Watson; Philadelphia: Muhlenberg, 1961] 57). But critics have argued that “a love expressly devoid of anything human and personal is, ipso facto, divine” (Outka, Agape, 149) and that in the “elimination of Eros man has been eliminated” (D'Arcy, Mind and Heart, 82).

75 See e.g., AE, 129 n. 1, 572–74, 584, 588, and 602 n. 11.

76 For a book-length assessment of mysticism in Lewis see Downing's Into the Region of Awe (footnote 24 above).

77 According to Caroline Simon, “Lewis does at times sound like Nygren” (“On Love,” 154)—this, I think, is one of those times. More in sync with Lewis's general view would be Rudolf Otto's definition of mysticism simply as “creature-consciousness” (The Idea of the Holy [trans. John W. Harvey; 2nd ed; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1978] 20, 22).

78 The final chapters of Surprised by Joy narrate how “a philosophical theorem . . . became a living presence” (214). Commenting on this, Carnell writes: “Philosophical idealism could be talked, even felt, but it seemed impossible to live it. . . . Idealism was undeniably too fuzzy and abstract to touch life at all the points where he [Lewis] had discovered meaning and significance” (Bright Shadow, 58).

79 Lewis, Allegory of Love, 236.

80 “Freedom, or necessity? Or do they differ at their maximum?” (SJ, 223). In his English History (33, 43) Lewis says salvation may feel like “compulsion,” but he thinks that this is still far from a universal theory of predestination. He may have known that Otto made the very same point (Idea of the Holy, 87). For a helpful account of Lewis's view on God's sovereignty and human responsibility see Will Vaus, Mere Theology: A Guide to the Thought of C. S. Lewis (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2004) 49–61. Vaus believes there is “a decided emphasis, in Lewis's last interview, on God's sovereignty in Lewis's own salvation” (61).

81 Lewis C. S., Out of the Silent Planet (1938; repr., New York: Macmillan, 1945) 77.

82 Meilaender comments that hlutheline, the possessive insistence of having a pleasure twice, “will be futile and will inevitably spoil the genuine pleasure which the object might have given” (Taste for the Other, 15).

83 Simon, “On Love,” 150 [italics in original].

84 Lewis, George MacDonald, xxxix.

85 Lewis, Problem of Pain, 36.

86 Ibid., 72.

87 “Pride had to be broken in surrender, and in that surrender his longings could be re-directed” (Meilaender, Taste for the Other, 93).

88 Ibid., 235.

89 Ibid.

90 Burnaby, Amor Dei, 4.

91 In this relation, Lewis's thought closely resembles what Nygren had criticized as “Augustine's caritas-synthesis” (Meilaender, Taste for the Other, 122). Caroline Simon's succinct observation has been verified by our analysis: Lewis's view of longing is “much closer to . . . Augustine's ‘caritas-motif’” (“On Love,” 154).

92 Lewis, Collected Letters, 3:555.

* For longsuffering help in the form of written and oral feedback on earlier drafts of this article, the author would like to thank Judith Wolfe, Aku Visala, Michael Ward, Bruce R. Johnson, Rope Kojonen, Iisa Lepojärvi, Jussi Ruokomäki, Richard Lyne, and Werner Jeanrond.

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