Externality in Lewis, Chesterton, and Tolkien

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Let us begin with Lewis. We should notice first that Lewis explicitly identified himself with the spiritual and literary tradition of the Beatific Vision. In “The Weight of Glory” Lewis speaks of “everlasting life in the vision of God”7 and in The Four Loves of “final union with God, vision of God and enjoyment of God.”8 Whatever else the beatific vision might be, it is certainly the highest degree of creaturely fulfillment, and it is certainly an activity of the soul, performed as an end in itself, that has an external good—the supreme external good—as its contemplated object.

In “The Weight of Glory”, Lewis fleshes out his understanding of beatific fulfillment along the lines of glory as “good report with God, acceptance by God, response, acknowledgement, and welcome into the heart of things.”9 It is “To please God…to be a real ingredient in the divine happiness…to be loved by God, not merely pitied, but delighted in as an artist delights in his work or a father in a son…”10 And this because one has become delightful, being infused with the righteousness of Christ, as Orual in Till We Have Faces becomes delightful when Psyche is formed in her and her bliss made complete as the god addresses her as His beloved: “You also are Psyche.”11 In Lewis’ view, heavenly beatitude consists (at least partly) in contemplation of the divine accolade “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.” It is, Lewis writes, “the humblest, the most childlike, the most creaturely of pleasures—nay, the specific pleasure of the inferior: the pleasure of a beast before men, a child before its father, a pupil before his teacher, a creature before its creator.”12

But Lewis also speaks (in The Four Loves) of beatific fulfillment in terms of a human’s love toward God: “Every Christian would agree that a man’s spiritual health is exactly proportional to his love for God.”13 It follows that the highest degree of spiritual well-being for the human soul is attendant upon the highest degree of love for God. In concluding The Four Loves, Lewis declares that the “true centre of all Human and angelic life” lies in a supernatural appreciative love towards God which humans may be caused to possess by divine grace.14 Love of God, of course, is, in the Christian tradition, an activity that has as its contemplated object something outer and other—the supreme Other.

Lewis’ Screwtape seems also to be aware of the Principle of Externality, at least as it applies to human beings (since Screwtape is a demon, though, he uses this knowledge to attempt to prevent human fulfillment). Screwtape advises his nephew Wormwood on strategies for spoiling his “patient’s” prayers: “The simplest is to turn their gaze away from Him [God] toward themselves.”15 Screwtape praises Spiritual Pride as “the strongest and most beautiful of the vices.”16 In fact, Screwtape advises that Wormwood’s human patient should be deterred from enjoying anything outside himself simply for its own sake: “The man who truly and disinterestedly enjoys any one thing in the world, for its own sake, and without caring twopence what other people say about it, is by that very fact fore-armed against some of our subtlest modes of attack.”17 The devils aim to block the externality, which, according to the PE, is necessary for any degree of human fulfillment.

Lewis frequently conceives of human fulfillment as a matter of gaining a personality or a self (or, more metaphorically, a “face”), and the PE characterizes the process by which one comes to have a personality. One does not gain a self by inwardness—for whoever wants to save his life will lose it. “The very first step,” writes Lewis, “is to try to forget about the self altogether. Your real, new self (which is Christ’s and also yours, and yours just because it is His) will not come as long as you are looking for it. It will come when you are looking for Him.”18 Lewis closes Mere Christianity with the prophecy: “Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.”19

The Principle of Externality comes up in Lewis’ discussions of several other subjects—the development of Faith,20 originality in literature and art,21 joy and the life of imagination,22 etc. But we must move on. Before doing so, however, we should note that Lewis would not accept the PE without the last clause, which requires that the externally-oriented activity be of a kind that is appropriate to the creature in question. Screwtape teaches Wormwood a two-edged demonic principle: “in all activities of mind which favour our cause [he gives anger and lust as examples], encourage the patient to be un-selfconscious and to concentrate on the object, but in all activities favourable to the Enemy bend his mind back on itself.”23 As Lewis sees it, the demons would happily allow externality, as long as it is of a kind that violates the condition given in the last clause of the PE. But let us turn now to Chesterton.