is theology poetry? a random quote from c. s. lewis

In 1944, C. S. Lewis was invited to speak to the Oxford Socratic Club on the assigned question of whether theology is poetry. He did not seem to care much for question, and so after briefly answering “that for me at any rate, if Theology is Poetry, it is not very good poetry” in that “the whole cosmic story though full of tragic elements yet fails of being a tragedy.”

He then attempts to describe the nevertheless superior aesthetic value of Theology by comparing it to its chief contemporary rival, the “Scientific Outlook.” His comparison near the end of the essay is fascinating. The spelling is British.

When I accept Theology I may find difficulties, at this point or that, in harmonising it with some particular truths which are imbedded in the mythical cosmology derived from science. But I can get in, or allow for, science as a whole… If, on the other hand, I swallow the scientific cosmology as a whole, then not only can I not fit in Christianity, but I cannot even fit in science. …And this is to me the final test. This is how I distinguish dreaming and waking. When I am awake I can, in some degree, account for and study my dream. That dragon that pursued me last night can be fitted into my waking world. I know that there are such things as dreams: I know that I had eaten an indigestible dinner: I know that a man of my reading might be expected to dream of dragons. But while in the nightmare I could not have fitted in my waking experience. The waking world is judged more real because it can thus contain the dreaming world: the dreaming world is judged less real because it cannot contain the waking one. For the same reason I am certain that in passing from the scientific point of view to the theological, I have passed from dream to waking. Christian theology can fit in science, art, morality, and the sub-Christian religions. The scientific point of view cannot fit in any of these things, not even science itself. I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen not only because I see it but because by it I see everything else. — C. S. Lewis, “Is Theology Poetry?” in They Asked for a Paper (London: Geoffrey Bles, 1962) 164-165.

Hmmm. Your thoughts?

One Comment Add yours

  1. Russ says:

    Minus the “Christian theology can fit in science, art, morality, and the sub-Christian religions” statement, I think his metaphor is exquisite. Certainly, there are places for science and art in the Christian faith. Morality is part of Chrisitianity itself. But the “sub-Christian religions” are antithetical.

    Lewis appears to overextend the argument by positively including not only that which is compatible (art, science) with that which is incompatible (anything Scripture prohibits).

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