C.S. Lewis Institute

A Lecture featuring C.S. Lewis scholar, Michael Ward in partnership with the Lewis-Tolkien Society and the Church of the Incarnation.

About this event

Why do we say things are right and wrong? Is it merely a personal preference? Or are we recognizing something that is objectively real and true?

These questions formed the focus of Lewis’s work the Abolition of Man, which originated as a series of lectures given during the dark days of World War II.

Considered by some to be “the lynchpin for understanding all of Lewis’s work”, the Abolition of Man sets forth its arguments on purely philosophical grounds that many from all camps–including atheist philosopher John Gray—believe have as much, if not more, relevance today in our “post-truth” twenty-first century than when first published nearly 80 years ago.

Join Michael Ward as he presents on his most recent book, After Humanity: A Guide to C.S. Lewis’s Abolition of Man, through which he sheds light on this vital but challenging work, explaining both its general context and the particular circumstances in Lewis’s life that helped give rise to it, including his own front-line service in the trenches of the First World War.

 

About Michael Ward:

Hailed by N.T. Wright as the “foremost living Lewis scholar” and “a brilliant writer”, Michael Ward is the author and/or editor of 6 books including the best-selling and award-winning Planet Narnia: The Seven Heavens in the Imagination of C.S. Lewis and The Cambridge Companion to C.S. Lewis. He is a member of the Theology Faculty at the University of Oxford and Professor of Apologetics at Houston Baptist University, Texas. On the fiftieth anniversary of Lewis’s death, he unveiled a permanent national memorial to Lewis in Poets’ Corner, Westminster Abbey and is the co-editor of a volume of commemorative essays marking the anniversary, entitled C.S. Lewis at Poets’ Corner. He presented the BBC television documentary, The Narnia Code, which was directed and produced by the BAFTA-winning filmmaker, Norman Stone and authored an accompanying book entitled The Narnia Code: C.S. Lewis and the Secret of the Seven Heavens. He was resident Warden of The Kilns, Lewis’s Oxford home, from 1996 to 1999.

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Fathers and Children

Beloved:
See what love the Father has bestowed on us
that we may be called children of God.
Yet so we are.

I John 3:1

For much of the last century fatherhood has been an  endangered vocation. In the popular culture of the twenty-first century Patriarchy, when it is not the subject of ridicule, is a synonym for repression, an ancient pathology belonging to a vanished world in which fathers attempted arbitrarily to exercise authority and commanded obedience.  In a complementary way to be child-like, open and trusting, an attitude that our Savior considered necessary to faith, is now  counted naiveté.   Yet He once called a child, put him in their midst, and said, “Truly I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.  Whoever humbles himself like this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:1-5). And the wide world forgets that Jesus taught His disciples to call God His Father and theirs.  Christ the Son of God taught us to  pray beginning with the words “Our Father,” that He calls God His father thirty-four times in the discourses of chapters 14–17 of the Gospel of John, and His last words were, “My Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46).    

But leaving aside the folly of the present—and every age has its follies—we can remember that fatherhood is the cornerstone of reality in the world Christ revealed:  the divine paternity of our Creator, the paternity over the Church of him called in Italian Papa, our pope, in the old world the paternal government of the anointed king, and everywhere the divinely appointed fatherhood of the head of every human family.

Among things human, the finest aspiration of every man is to be a good father, to beget children of the woman beloved is a natural duty, but fatherhood  itself in its fulfilment of a vocation that must be chosen and in Christendom fatherhood is a supernatural vocation.  In the natural and divinely appointed order every father is the head of  household, for which, the Christian way teaches, he must be willing to give his life, not always or even often  in a dramatic one-time fashion, but in the wearying, unending way of life lived, thus imitating Christ, who gives his life for the whole world and who still  intercedes for us.   Fathers of sons and daughters to a great degree chose that role, and when they choose to fulfill it they do so in imitation of our Father in  heaven, who, having called our humankind into existence first gives His life for His bride the Church whom He loves and then nurtures and disciplines every one of His children.  

Just so every father on earth is to his daughters and sons the model of our Father in heaven who governs with power and authority transfused with a tenderness that loves and gives.    Christ assumes the just generosity that belongs to fatherhood:  “Which of you, if a son asks for bread will give him a stone? If you give good gifts to your children, how much more will your father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him” (Matthew 7:9).  The Epistle to the Hebrews construes the obedience of children to their fathers as analogous to the duty of every Christian to God the Father:  “We have earthly fathers to discipline us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of Spirits and live?” (Hebrews 12:7).   

The world Saint Paul assumes is one in which the bond that binds the family together is love made present in obedience. We know that these are inseparable:  Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). Saint Paul says directly:  “Children obey your parents for this is right.  Honor your father and mother (this is the first commandment with a promise) that you may live long on the earth” (Ephesians 6:1–2).  And Paul then makes it clear that paternal authority combines patient teaching with discipline:  “Do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them  up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” 

  When Saint Paul commands children to obey their parents and wives to obey their husbands he is assuming that this obedience within the family is the second step in a hierarchy of obedience that begins with the father who is head of the family.   To be a good father is not simply to exercise one’s own will, for the tree of obedience that bears much good fruit begins higher.   It begins when the Father himself is obedient to the laws divine and natural, to the teaching of the Church and the laws of the political community, themselves being the reflection of natural and divine justice.   To ask one’s children to be obedient in the Lord, to ask one’s wife to be subject to him, every father and husband must first himself be submitted to the law both of the cross and of this world’s authority.   Saint Paul’s command regarding obedience to political authority , necessarily addressed to fathers as head of the family, are now no less embarrassing than his command that Christians obey and revere the emperor.  But the fact that they cannot easily be located in post-modernity does not mean that they can be ignored.  

Just as when nature has been defeated by the awful technological transcendence  that ignores the very forms in things, one must still respect those forms, just so when political authority claims only positive sanction, only the ability to command and punish, Christians, and especially the head of the house, must  live as though the law has the authority of God because the law of Christ lives in our hearts and is taught by the Church. When the head of the house, the authority in the family is truly submitted to the law of Christ it may be time to consider the duty of wives to be submitted to their husbands and of children to be obedient.   If the husband and head is truly submitted to God he has before him ever Paul’s admonition that husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the Church and died for her (Ephesians 5:25), and as well the teaching of Jesus on the night in which He was betrayed:  “The gentiles lord it over one another, but it shall not be so among you,” and he has in  memory  as well the admonition that children are not to be provoked to anger (Ephesians 6:4).  A husband and father thus armed is able to expect from his household the obedience that belongs to love.    

Saint Paul incidentally names one other tie between fathers and children.  In explaining to the Corinthians that he seeks nothing but their good, that they owe him nothing,  he writes, “Children ought not lay up for their parents but parents for their children. I will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls.”  Paul is citing a commonplace of family life to illustrate a spiritual obligation, but it is noteworthy that he recognizes the duty of fathers to the secular  future, to lay up something for their children.  But Paul knows that the greatest gift of fathers to sons and of mothers to daughters is a tradition of Christian virtue and honor.    

 

The Third Servant’s Story

Then the one who had received the one talent came forward and said
“Master, I knew you were a demanding person;

harvesting where you did not plant
and gathering where you did not scatter;
so out of fear I went off and buried your talent in the ground.
Here it is back.”
”His master said to him in reply, “You wicked, lazy servant!
Should you not then have put my money in the bank
so that I could have got it back with interest on my return?
Now then! Take the talent from him 
and give it to the one with ten. 

For to everyone who has,

more will be given and he will grow rich;
but from the one who has not,
even what he has will be taken away.
And throw this useless servant into the darkness outside,

where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.”
                                                                  
                                                                         Matthew 25:24–30

 

The parables of Christ, being works of divine genius, are always deceptively simple while in fact they are complex.  The lines above, quoted from the Parable of the Talents, presuppose two principles important to the life of the soul.   The first is that we live in a moral  world that is always in motion; our souls are always either growing in grace, closer day by day to Jesus, or they are diminishing in spiritual strength, falling  away, however subtly, from their divine destiny.  To him that hath, more will be added.  From those who lack, what little they have will be taken away (Matthew 13:2).   This is a rule of the life of the soul that every Christian will verify.  Christianity is a religion, a way that binds and forms, and as a religion it must be practiced day by day.  When Satan, ever active, manages to introduce the tiniest bit of spiritual lethargy, when our prayers seem dry and pointless, when he cajoles us into giving them up for just one day,  he inaugurates a process that if not with the help of grace arrested will lead to destruction.  On the other hand, when our hearts are full of the charity that binds us to Christ, prayer and good works seem easy and fulfilling and we long to be drawn closer to Jesus.   

The spiritual world we inhabit is always in motion; we are moving closer to the Presence and the Vision or away from that divinely appointed destiny.    There is no pleasant plateau: failure to grow, if not amended, means death to the soul.  This is illustrated by the story of the third servant.  The first two servants had taken custody of the master’s money and put it at interest, making increase for the Master.   The unfortunate who had received but one talent and who being fearful had hidden it, was called by his Lord, “You wicked, lazy servant,” and was bound and cast into prison. And when he tried to return the one talent  to his master, it was refused, with the command that it be given to the more provident first servant.   

The second great premise of the Parable of the Talents is the truth that the successful life is an adventure in all its aspects, spiritually fundamentally, but also in the other aspects of life on earth.  Spiritually, as a Christian one places his life in the hands of a Lord whose perfect divine sonship is often not affirmed, not only by secularists, but sometimes even within the Church; the believer hopes for the return of Jesus from the sky, like the lightning flashing from East to West (Matthew 24:27, Luke 17:24), to bring this age of grace to a perfection and a close even when great scholars such as Schweitzer proclaim this a false hope; you give your time, time that always seems in short supply, to liturgy, the worship and work of Christian people, prayer and good works.   On any grounds other than grace-given faith this is to adventure into an illusion.  

And this gift of self to the truth the world calls illusion has an analogy in the management of the goods of this world.  It was with good reason that Jesus chose the management of money as the activity illustrative of the adventure of faith.  In this adventure the third servant, the one given only one talent, failed miserably.  He should have invested his money at interest so that on the Master’s return the Master should have found an increase.  But the third servant buried the money he had been given in the ground because he was afraid, knowing that his Lord was a  hard master.  His fate was to lose even the one talent he had been given and to be cast into outer darkness, where there is wailing and gnashing of teeth.   The good life, the Christian life, is an adventure, and to prescind from the adventure in favor of security either in things spiritual or things material and economic is to court ruin.  

In this regard the spiritual and the worldly are so closely interlinked that one will not flourish without the other.  The third servant having chosen security rather than the adventure of life is open to the political fact called socialism, the system in which the adventure of life, as well as its pains, are subsumed into a blanket of community security.  There is no mystery in the fact that, granting the necessity that the political community help those who cannot help themselves, where universal material security prevails, Christianity dies, for one cannot have the habit of choosing the security that guaranteed comfort encourages over the adventure of life without cutting the root of the spiritual life, itself rooted in wonder and faith,.   Where your treasure is, there your heart will be; where your security is, there your heart will be (Matthew 6:21).   

Finally the character of the good Lord as displayed in this parable should be noted.  He is a hard man, reaping where he did not sow and gathering where he did not plant.  His justice is not the reciprocal justice between individuals, not what moral philosophers call commutative justice, not a reciprocal exchange of goods, but  justice that is as high, as holy, and as hidden as His mercy is unfathomably, to us unreasonably, great yet never disparaging of His just character.  This is a side of the divine nature as it is revealed to us that is now not often canvassed.   It illustrates the truth that life is a gift too great to be wasted without consequence, a morally dangerous game in which no provision is made for sitting it out on the sidelines.  Having given us one good life, the Lord wants it back not merely as it was received but with interest, the flaws with which it was necessarily born amended, its weaknesses turned into strengths, its moral ignorance turned into spiritual knowledge, our love of self transformed into love for Him and for those others He also loves with a deep and indefeasible love, our fellow pilgrims.