Many are the voices suggesting there has been a failure of vision by the intellectual class, that there is currently a lack of vision to guide culture forward, out of this period of intellectual and cultural chaos. Towards what might…
There is something “perilous” about beauty and we are aware at some deep level of intuition or, better yet, at some vague awareness of a moral reality or “calling” that Beauty has within it the power to “change” us at some profound and ontological level of our existence. To follow a “trail’ that leads to “the Golden Wood” where one will knowingly encounter Beauty is one that requires courage and calls forth the essence of our character and reveals its flaws and weaknesses. It is here that we begin to acknowledge, again at some level, that Beauty contains within it the potential of great power and great goodness.
In an age when technology has caught up with our literary imaginations, film makers are faced with many decisions about how to adapt works of fantasy for the silver screen. Since the beginning of story-telling, the quest for something greater than self has permeated our stories, infusing them with elements of the supernatural and the divine. As we seek a greater Other, we are also seeking ourselves and a deeper understanding of what it means to inhabit this earthly realm while longing for the numinous elsewhere.
In a short paper all I can do is whet your appetite, if you have a taste for philosophical investigations. In other words, the best I can do is tease you. By ‘a taste for philosophical investigations’, I mean a fascination with certain questions-questions about ultimate meaning, but whose meaning is, ultimately, the question. For example, “What is truth?”; “What is reality?”; “What is knowledge?”; “What is the self?”; “What is meaning?” These are philosophical questions, both because the answers we give to them will shape the way we live our lives (and in that sense are ultimately meaningful), and because they are questions whose meanings are themselves so puzzling.
Although they lived two centuries apart, C. S. Lewis and John Wesley had much in common. Both were Anglicans associated with Oxford University, but more importantly, both were Evangelicals who took the Christian faith seriously and used similar metaphors to describe faith. For both of them, the things of God, although not visible to the natural eye, could nevertheless be seen with the eyes of faith.
There are some quotations so arresting, so perfect in simplicity, that they never leave the memory. They are honeyed phrases for the mind: “Beauty will save the world,” says a prince in Dostoevsky’s unfortunately-titled The Idiot. The prince speaks as one having authority: beauty will save the world. Or there is Keats in his “Ode on a Grecian Urn”: ” ‘Beauty is truth, truth beauty’-that is all / Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know”. Or St. Augustine saying to God in his Confessions, “Late have I loved you, beauty so old and so new”. It is yet more surprising to find Genesis in league with each of the above, for in Genesis’s opening chapter the refrain so quietly insistent, “And God saw that it was good,” contains a Hebrew word which may be translated either as good or as beautiful. The feel of the whole chapter changes if one hears God proclaim that the light, the sun, the greenery, the animals are all beautiful, and mankind very beautiful.
As the literature for this Oxbridge 2005 conference notes, “C.S. Lewis once said, ‘the sweetest thing in all my life has been the longing…to find the place where all the beauty came from.’” Lewis is not alone in his quest. While one might expect such company as writers, artists, musicians, and philosophers it might be surprising to discover a stellar contingent of Nobel Prize winners and other significant physicists along for the journey. It appears, as we will see in the following accounts, that beauty has long been the unsung companion of great discoveries in the physical sciences. Taking a look at the role beauty plays in the realms of both physics and theology could point the way to a place where Christian theology and the modern science of physics might have a conversation profitable to both disciplines.
C. S. Lewis published The Abolition of Man in 1944 in the midst of World War II. We can perhaps imagine the ominous and suggestive nature of this timing. But, as readers soon discovered, the book was not at all about the War, or Hitler’s eugenics, or the looming nuclear threat. Lewis’s real subject is the soul and its education. According to Lewis, the real enemy—more dangerous than any nation, weapon, or science—is a philosophy: nihilism. It is perhaps a bit misleading to say that nihilism is a “post-modern” philosophy, for there have been nihilists and advocates of nihilism as long as there have been men. But it is true that this philosophy has come to be more widely preached and practiced in our time than ever before. In The Abolition of Man Lewis both explains and combats this modern (post-modern) development.
One of the most dramatic transformations of culture in the history of Western civilization was accomplished by humble, poor, foreign missionary teachers. Irish monks—C. S. Lewis’ forebears—trudged their way across Scotland, England, and the European Continent. And in their wake they left a lasting legacy of faith, of learning, and, indeed, of civilization.
Over the centuries between A.D. 550 and 1300, scores of Irish monks left their homeland and spread out across Europe, preaching the Gospel to violent, lawless pagans, teaching Scripture, literature and the arts and sciences to kings and peasants alike and establishing monastic communities which served as centers for not only evangelism and discipleship, but for education and culture. Their teaching brought God’s Word and civilization back to a Europe which had been conquered and ruined by barbarians.
Contemporary architecture has been trivialized spurred on by a profit-driven construction industry on the one hand and aspiring intellectual designers on the other. At a time of increasing social inequality, threats of nuclear proliferation, widespread spiritual and moral fatigue, disintegration of the social nucleus, lifestyle- and environment-dependant illnesses of epidemic proportions, alarming frequency and intensity of natural disasters, terrorism, global warming, deforestation, air pollution, acid rain, ozone depletion, the extinction of species, limited natural resources and a dwindling food supply, architecture has either been absent or responded with inconsequential metaphors.