07 July 2009

Love comes to Cambridge with CS Lewis

Metropolitan Kallisatos Ware with Dr Christine Mangala Forst and Professor David Frost at the summer school of the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies in Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Oxford came to Cambridge today when Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware) of Diokleia, one of the leading Orthodox theologians in the English-speaking world, introduced us to the meaning of love in the writings of Charles Williams and CS Lewis.

Williams and Lewis, along with JRR Tolkien, were Christian writers who were members of the Oxford literary circle known as the “Inklings.” The Inklings met in Oxford in the 1930s and 1940s for lunch on Tuesdays at the “Eagle and Child,” a pub also known as the “Bird and Baby,” and on Thursdays they met in CS Lewis’s rooms in Magdalen College, Oxford.

Metropolitan Kallistos met Lewis when he was an undergraduate at Magdalen, where he took a Double First in Classics as well as reading Theology. But he admitted to us today that as a young undergraduate at Magdalen, where he read classics and theology, he was too shy to speak face-to-face to Lewis.

Today, Metropolitan Kallistos is a titular metropolitan of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. From 1966 to 2001, He was Spalding Lecturer on Eastern Orthodox Studies at Oxford University (1966-2001) and a fellow of Pembroke College, Oxford. He is the author of numerous books and articles on Orthodoxy, and until recently he chaired the board of the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies in Cambridge.

Metropolitan Kallistos told us how the Inklings shared a concern to promote a visionary imagination, and in pursuit of this wrote works of Christian fiction, novels and stories for children, supernatural thrillers and epics. Through these stories, they tried to convey an authentically Christian understanding of our place in God’s creation, evoking joy and wonder.

Bearing the other’s burden

Charles Williams (1886-1945) is less well-known today than other members of the Inklings, such as JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis, and they came from different backgrounds. Tolkien was a Roman Catholic with conservative tastes who disliked Vatican II. Lewis was born in Belfast and at the beginning of his academic life was an atheist, but converted to Christianity in 1931 and surprised Tolkien by becoming an Anglican.

Charles Williams was an Anglo-Catholic. Although he won a place at university, his family was too poor for him to complete his studies and he left without a degree. While he was working in the London office of the Oxford University Press, he came to know CS Lewis because OUP published Lewis’s first important book, The Allegory of Love. In 1939, Williams moved to Oxford, where Lewis arranged for him to lecture. Williams died in 1945 at a relatively young age.

Williams worked with energy and speed. He once said that it took him seven minutes to write a sonnet, and it said that he wrote 7,000-10,000 words of prose in a weekend, producing an extraordinary number of books. Almost always, Williams produced a new and startling idea.

The basic theme in Williams’s writing could be described as “the way of exchange” concerned with interdependence of peoples, coinherence and substituted love, metropolitan Kallistos said, referring to the web of glory and the golden ladder of exchange.

We live for others, but at the same time we live from others – “dying each other’s life, living each other’s death.” All life is vicarious, and the self everywhere lives only with others.

Writing about the importance of personal relationships, Williams uses several different images to express the ways in which we are all joined together in a web of relationships, and those images include the dance, the city and freedom.

Williams once said that Oxford, however nice, was still a parody of London. In an aside, Metropolitan Kallistos said with a smile that he didn’t say what Williams thought of Cambridge – “perhaps a travesty of parody.”

For Williams, the character of a city is the exchange between the citizens. The city is a very positive image for him, and Metropolitan Kallistos drew comparisons with the city in revelation and the heavenly Jerusalem. A city is formed of free citizens. “Society is a whole whose parts are themselves wholes, and it is an organism composed of liberties.”

He went on to speak of how Williams wrote of the idea of love as exchange, of substituted love, and carrying a burden that isn’t mine so that the other can be released from her fear. Taking up someone’s burden does not abolish their suffering, and can be used as a means of controlling people. All you can do is offer to help without demanding that the other agrees, without demanding any specific result.

Williams linked his vision of substituted love, the way of exchange, particularly with the doctrine of Trinity. He says the Trinity is the primary act of exchange. He quotes the aphorism “It is not good for God to be alone.” To be made in the image and likeness of God is to be made in the image and likeness of the Trinity. When God says “Let us make man in our image and likeness,” God speaks in the plural. And so Williams concludes that creation is an action of the Trinity.

The ‘Four Loves’ of CS Lewis

While Williams liked to make things ambiguous and overlapping, CS Lewis (1898-1963) liked to make things clear, with sharp contrasts, said Metropolitan Kallistos. Lewis began his academic career as an undergraduate at Oxford, then taught as a fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford, for nearly 30 years, from 1925 to 1954. In 1954, he moved from Oxford to Cambridge as the first Professor of Mediaeval and Renaissance English. There he became a fellow of Magdalene College, Cambridge, but he never had the same impact on Cambridge as he had on Oxford.

Lewis did not like ritual and was not interested in churchmanship. While he attended the chapel in Magdalen during the week, he never attended Choral Evensong there and went to the early Sunday morning service in his local parish church.

His book The Four Loves (1960) is a late book, written in his last days at Cambridge. He identifies the four loves as: affection (storge, στοργή), which he calls the humblest love and is unmerited; friendship (philia, φιλία); eros (ἔρως); and caritas (agapē, ἀγάπη).

Metropolitan Kallistos noted that Lewis has little to say about ecclesiology or the theology of the Church, and little to say about the Trinity, lacking the Trinitarian emphasis found in Williams.

“Love is a fundamental stance or attitude, which, with every level of our human nature, we affirm the other as the centre of our own personhood,” he said. “We are to love with our emotions, will and imagination, our rational and visionary intellect. We are not imaginative enough.”

He told us that you cannot love others unless you have some sense of your own value as a person. We exist not just for the self, but for the other. To love is to be eccentric – we displace ourselves from the centre. Love implies freedom. To love is to allow the other to be, and to be other.

The Holy Trinity: model of mutual love

Earlier in the morning, Metropolitan Kallistos also spoke about “The Holy Trinity: model of mutual love.”

The Holy Trinity is the model of mutual love, and the fountain and source of love, he said. He recalled how Richard of St Victor (d. ca 1173), in De Trinitatia, quotes from I John 4: 8, “God is Love,” and goes on to say that love expresses the perfection of divine nature. Self-love, love of one, turned inwards, is not the fullness of love. Love in its true form implies the presence of another. Love only exists in its fullness when it is mutual. The perfection of one person requires fellowship with another. Nothing is more glorious than to wish to have nothing that you do not share.

Love exists where there is a plurality of persons. If God is love, God cannot be one person loving himself, and the circle of two persons can be closed and exclusive. Love should not only be mutual, it should be shared.

For Richard of St Victor, the pattern of love is completed in the Holy Trinity with the movement from self-love (the Father) to mutual love (Father and Son) to shared love (Father, Son and Holy Spirit).

Richard did not advance this as a proof of the doctrine of the Trinity, which he accepted could not to be proved, but is revealed to us through Scripture and Tradition.

Richard is saying that love is essentially self-giving, and its true essence lies not in taking but in giving. Love is to offer oneself as a gift to the other. The doctrine of the Trinity is a way of saying that God’s eternal being is self-giving.

He argued that the social doctrine of the Trinity undermines the unity of God and leads to tritheism. Are they three movements or three persons in the same way as three human persons, each with their own will, makes their own decisions?

Ways of being and movements of being cannot love one another, Metropolitan Kallistos declared. Only persons can love one another. Therefore, he finds Richard’s description of the Trinity “deeply illuminating.”

The being of God is relational being, so also is the human being. We are what we are only in relation to other persons. There is no true person, unless there are two or three persons in communication with each other. “Self-hood is social or it is nothing. I need you in order to be myself. That is what the doctrine of the Trinity means to me.”

Both lectures were punctuated with his own warm and genial sense of humour. He recalled how as a young boy he had two ambitions – to be a bishop and to be a railway station master. Perhaps the second was a higher ambition, but when he became a metropolitan he came close to achieving both ambitions, taking an office named after an underground line, albeit “the oldest, shabbiest part of the underground, so appropriately humbled.”

‘Agape and Eros’

In the morning, Father Michael Harper also spoke on ‘The Love Affair: reflections on Agape and Eros.’ A former Anglican priest, he was born in 1931 to an English father and a Dublin-born mother who later moved to Ennis, Co Clare. He studied law at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, and theology at Ridley Hall before becoming John Stott’s curate in All Souls’, Langham Place.

He was a leading figure in the charismatic movement in the Church of England in the 1960s-1980s, but he left the Anglican ministry in 1995 because of what he saw as increasing doctrinal laxity in the Church of England, particularly on the ordination of women. He is now an Orthodox priest and Dean of the Antiochian Orthodox Deanery of the United Kingdom and Ireland.

He said the most influential verse of the Bible in his life is John 3: 16. For him first and foremost God is a God of love, a God who loves us, who has saved us through his son, Jesus Christ, and who has delivered us and brought us into new life.

But, he said, love and sex are often confused. Of course, he said, love and sex should go together. But what about the love of God? And he wondered too whether there should be a third great commandment: to the commands to love God, and to love your neighbour might be added a command to love yourself.

Father Michael spoke of how he had been strongly influenced by Agape and Eros by Anders Nygren, the Swedish Lutheran theologian, and first published as Eros and Agape in Swedish (1930-1936).

In this book, Nygren analyses the connotations of two Greek words for love, eros (sexual love) and agape (unconditional love), and asks whether the Greek eros had a much deeper meaning than it has today, describing transcendent acquisitive and/or philosophical love.

Later, he said that John Klimakos, in his description of the Ladder of Divine Ascent, described the top rung of the 30 steps on the ladder as agape. He asked whether the ladder is going up to heaven or down to earth. He thinks it is both, but the tension between the two needs to be maintained.

Love on Classic Ground

The afternoon opened with Professor David Frost introducing us to the topic of ‘Love on Classic Ground: Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde and Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra.’

Dr Frost is a Shakespearean scholar of note. But he has also worked in theatre in Australia, where he has staged the Chester Mysteries in Newcastle, run a symphony orchestra, and translated the Psalter into English. His wife, Dr Christine Mangala Frost, said: “I prefer to think of him as David the Psalmist.”

In his paper, Dr Frost offered the beautiful insight that the great creative artists have insights that go beyond the formulations of philosophers and theologians.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, Dublin.

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