Thursday, 19 January 2017

The Romantic Theology of the Inklings (considered as a complementary group)

Here, I am further exploring the idea of The Inklings as a complementary group entity; which I began recently:

Charles Williams named the concept of Romantic Theology as a Way of Affirmation of Images (or Christian Via Positiva) - in other words the Christian life rooted in marriage and (implicitly) family. CW's own life did not live-up to this ideal - in that he was an unfaithful husband and resentful father; however in many respects that of Tolkien did.

Tolkien was a devoted family man - and this extended to writing fairy stories of mythic quality for his children; most famously The Hobbit, but perhaps most significantly The Father Christmas Letters the writing and illustrating of which extended over his four children and twenty-five years.

Owen Barfield, in his early essays collected as Romanticism Comes of Age, clarified that 'Romantic' also had a profound meaning of being the - uncompleted, and indeed culturally distorted or abandoned - next stage of the Western evolution of consciousness that was destined (i.e. divinely-intended) to follow after the Industrial Revolution.  

So Romantic Theology can be understood to mean Romantic in both a personal (CW) and cultural (OB) sense.

CS Lewis took at least two major Christian themes from literary Romanticism. One (from the likes of Longfellow and Wagner, as well as direct from the primary sources) was the spontaneous human appeal of Paganism - especially that of the Scandinavian pagans - and that this could be seen not as opposed to Christianity, but as a partial precursor. Thus Christianity includes all that is best in paganism; and should be seen as a completion of paganism.

Lewis's other leading Romantic idea was that Christianity was of Joy - which was his term for Novalis's Sehnsucht. Lewis interpreted Joy as a yearning for something beyond this world; and the fact of this yearning as evidence of the reality of what was ultimately yearned-for – to be found in the world beyond human mortal life.

Tolkien apparently agreed with Lewis concerning the positive values of Northern paganism – and also used a version of the Joy argument in an implicit fashion for example in his essay On Fairy Stories; and the posthumously-published Debate of Finrod and Andreth.

In the (posthumous) Notion Club Papers, Tolkien also pursued the Romantic idea that Myth was more primary, real and important than History - and that an ideal for the future would be the recovery of the mythic attitude on Life.

Tolkien and Lewis shared the view of history as divided between pre-modern and modern - and beyond modern lay only the End Times. Williams saw a desirable possibility of a future Christianity overall at least the equal, perhaps better than, any phase in the past - although this is mainly hinted-at rather than made explicit.

But Barfield (taking his lead from Coleridge) took Romantic Theology as the destined future of Western Man, and a living possibility - to be achieved via a further evolution of consciousness into what he termed Final Participation. Final Participation could be understood as a qualitative step in theosis - or the task of becoming like God during mortal life (itself a major theme of CS Lewis).

For Barfield, Romantic Theology is something only possible to man after modernity (after the Industrial Revolution) has led to the development of the autonomy, agency - indeed freedom - of The Self; it is a positive choice to re-connect with the rest of creation, understood as both alive and conscious; and this re-connection (history becoming myth) is achieved by Love.

Taking all four of the main Inklings as providing different and complementary components; we can therefore discover in the work of the Inklings nothing less than a well-rounded and multi-disciplinary account of a new - and I would say deeply inspiring and motivating - Christian theology.

1 comment:

Bruce Charlton said...

Comment from Mike :

Thus Christianity includes all that is best in paganism; and should be seen as a completion of paganism.

I agree. The theologian James C. Russell discussed this as one of the strengths of Christianity in his book The Germanization of Early Medieval Christianity. By accommodating traditional pagan beliefs, Christianity presented itself as a reinvention of earlier beliefs, thereby functioning as a foundation for an invigorated European civilization.