Saturn is Subordinate to Jupiter

Concerning Saturn as the presiding “donegality” of The Last Battle:

…we should note that Lewis thought that art ought to meet psychological needs. That, in his view, was one of its justifications. Art (good art) very properly served to awaken or maintain or strengthen those parts of the human constitution which needed such ancillary support. As we have seen, he considered his own contemporaries to be in particular need of the spiritual nourishment that could be derived from imaginatively inhabiting the sphere of Jove. Too easily, in his view, the writers of his generation assumed that brains splattered upon a wall represented what life was ‘really like’ and that the consolations of religion were ‘really’ only a trick of the nerves, never reflecting on their equivocal use of the word ‘really.’

Lewis wanted to know why the former ‘reality’ was privileged above the latter and concluded the Jovial perspective had been selectively aborted. Of all the terrible losses inflicted by the Saturnine Great War, perhaps the most terrible—-from the imaginative point of view—-was this loss of belief in the kingship of Jupiter and the usurpation of his throne by Saturn.

Saturn  (From a Medieval book of Hours)

Saturn
(From a Medieval book of Hours)

… In other words, he thought that asceticism needed to have an account of the light by which it sees the darkness under reproach. Failure to recognise the uncondemnable wisdom inherent in the act of condemnation is itself a condemnation of philosophies that are wholly nihilistic. Such failure constitutes what Lewis—as early as 1924—called ‘The Promethean Fallacy in Ethics,’ a fallacy he found in Thackeray, in Russell, and in every ‘good atheist.’ The criticism or defiance that such a person hurls at an apparently ruthless and idiotic cosmos ‘is really an unconscious homage to something in or behind that cosmos which he recognizes as infinitely valuable and authoritative…’

Lewis thought that the Book of Job showed the legitimacy of such complaint, and his own angry lament for his wife’s death, A Grief Observed, is an example of the same thing. He fully recognised the human need to shout and shake one’s fists at God: but, equally, he recognized that, once the breast-beating was over and the passion was spent, there was something else to say…

Thus Lewis’s model of the universe has standing room for bleakness, but no throne. In this respect, as in so many others, he differed from the modernist mainstream. As he looked about him, he pondered the causes of the twentieth century’s poetical taste for nihilism and angst, such as he found in Roy Fuller’s line, ‘Anyone happy in this age and place / Is daft or corrupt.’ He traced its origins not to the obvious source (the Great War), but much further back, suggesting that it had its beginning in Keats’s praise of ‘those to whom the miseries of the world / Are misery, and will not let them rest,’…. His own belief was that the world’s woes were chronic but not absolute, because the resurrection of Christ had relativised them. One must do all one can to alleviate such sufferings, but need not be overcome by their non-disappearance in this life: ‘one’s own cheerfulness, even gaiety, must be encouraged,’ as must ‘the importance of not being earnest.’

… The truth of Joviality springs out of the chaotic remnants of Saturnised Narnia. It is at this point that we discover that Lewis’s fictional universe (like the one he believed himself to be living in) is not Saturnocentric, nor even interminably eucratic, but has a fifth act and a finale ‘in which the good characters ‘live happily ever after’ and the bad ones are cast out.’… At the end of the Narniad his aim is to make us ‘look along’ that spirit of open-heartedness as he orchestrates a grate cosmic eucatastrophe. Wave-like, Jove-like, it overwhelms those who keep the faith: for them, everything sad becomes untrue.

Quoted in Planet Narnia, by Dr. Michael Ward, pp. 210-212

Finale of the Last Battle

Finale of the Last Battle

In my mind, this chapter in Ward’s magnificent book presents one of the best (even if sidelong) treatments of the problems of sorrow, pain, and evil within the Christological view of the universe. When I read Lewis’s The Last Battle for the first time (which was recently, even though I had read the rest of the series multiple times over the years), I was taken aback by its tone and content. Yet through the lens of the medieval characterization of Saturn, the poiema and logos of this book come together in a profound expression and acknowledgement of the reality of the horrors and grief we encounter in life, which is nevertheless situated beneath the ruling sphere of Jupiter – the sphere of joy, courage, forgiveness, and active rest. We not only live in a universe like this, but also make our art in it. Accordingly art may (and should!) furnish us with support and encouragement by alluding to all of these things – not by negating the horrific and the sorrowful, but by situating them within the greater image of the Jovial universe. For “we are all between the paws of the true Aslan!”

Beauty in an Ugly Time | Books and Culture

Beauty in an Ugly Time | Books and Culture

An article by David Lyle Jeffrey addressing the deeply embedded preoccupation with human suffering prevalent in modernist art. He provides an analysis of Rouault and Chagall, each an example of an artist engaged with the horrifying reality of suffering and the redemptive reality of God’s love for us and his offer of life to us.

Chagall’s prophetic art is thus a splendid complement to the confessional work of Rouault. Rouault invites us to give up our masks, to accept the identification that Christ’s suffering affords as the “true image” of God’s love for us. Chagall’s work encourages us to choose life, and to nourish ourselves deeply, whether by day or by night, in the Word of the One who bade us to live in the joy of his giving. Each series is striking; when seen together we know how joy is an answer to sorrow, and beauty is made all the more urgent a choice when so much ugliness abounds.

Why is it so challenging to be a Christian musician?

As an undergraduate student of piano at a Christian liberal arts college, I struggled with my chosen vocation.  I found myself asking questions like, “is this subject really worth studying as a Christian?” and “shouldn’t I be pursuing something more obviously “ministry” oriented?”  Ultimately, I longed to know how the study of music can be a legitimate calling for a believer.

Why these questions, this terrible pressure to justify my calling?  Among the reasons were these:

First, I felt the tug of my field on my heartstrings.  The music world tends to be all-encompassing.  It can inspire whole-hearted devotion because it is both powerful and demanding, but this devotion easily becomes idolatry.  As Philip Ryken puts it, “Art is always tempted to glory in itself, and nearly every form of art has been used to communicate values that are contrary to Scripture” (Art for God’s Sake, 12).  I have seen this born out very deeply in my surroundings during my current studies in a secular environment, where many of the musicians around me live and breathe the music they play.

Second, there seems to be a modernist attitude implicit (and occasionally explicit) among many Christians that music “doesn’t concern anything objective, anything that could invite claims to truth” (Begbie, Resounding Truth, 14).  Or if it does have anything to do with objective truth, as it was thought to in ancient Greek philosophy and Augustinian theology, it simply points beyond itself to those objective things and has little or no value in itself (Begbie, RT, 83).  Related to this issue is the frequent verbal orientation of the church’s view of music.  Music is often seen solely as a servant of words instead of a form of communication and worship in its own right.

Finally, and poignantly, there are more urgent issues out there, such as natural disasters, climate change, hunger, AIDs, and unreached people.   As a result, it is easy to conceive music and the arts as trivial and inconsequential, a distraction from life (Begbie, RT, 14-15).  I wondered if this were true, and if I were devoting my life to something with a negligible role in the process of serving God and others in the world.

Fortunately, my path did not stop here.  In my next post I will explore in brief the reasons that have helped me to develop a more well-rounded theological view of music as a Christian vocation.