Footnote 27 – C.S. Lewis: The Discarded Image

Footnote 27 – C.S. Lewis, The Discarded Image: An Introduction to Medieval and Renaissance Literature (Cambridge University Press, 1964), p. 89.

Earlier I posted information about CS Lewis’ death on November 22, 1963. Normally this would have received significant press and public attention – the death of a respected scholar at both Oxford and Cambridge who became a wartime fixture in Britain for his radio discussions during the dark days of World War 2; the former atheist who became of the most significant and widely-read apologists for the truth of Christianity – was “overtaken by events” of the same day.

The significance of CS Lewis as an academician and scholar is sometimes overlooked or dismissed by those who know him only through his more popular apologetics books, or who cavalierly dismiss his views.  But his work as a scholar of medieval literature and the trans-generational and cross-cultural transmission of knowledge is significant.  His posthumously-published work,The Discarded Image (Cambridge University Press, 1964) is one of my “favorites” – describing how medieval texts assimilated the Greco-Roman corpus of “natural history” (what would, in the 19th century, be dubbed “science”) – useful to a green graduate student in the History of Science at Emory University in Atlanta, grappling with bestiaries and other strange accumulations of knowledge. .

As a young man, I once had a flash of insight that youthful hubris allowed me to imagine at the time to be one of the few truly “original” ideas I ever had (everyone should have one or two such ideas in a lifetime, no?) It was the notion that God does not really “foreknow” what happens in the future (as though He were limited to looking at the future through a keyhole, or the “wrong” end of a telescope – actually an apt description of the limited view of prophets and angels described in 1 Peter 1:10-12). Rather, since He is not time-bound, and therefore is already “at” tomorrow, or next year, He knows what decisions I make in my future since he is already “there.” In the same way that I know what choices I made for breakfast this morning (bacon and eggs, cereal, bagel? – ALWAYS go for the bacon, if available), similarly, He knows my “future-to-me” choices, without limiting them in any way. The insight seemed so profound and original at the time…..

Then I encountered Lewis’ comments below, published while I was still a high school kid only beginning to contemplate such matters.  Ah, well….there is no shame in being superseded, or pre-dated, by C.S. Lewis!

Here’s the text:

“God is eternal, not perpetual.  Strictly speaking, He never foresees; He simply sees.  Our ‘future’ is only an area, and only for us a special area, of His infinite Now.  He sees (not remembers) your yesterday’s acts because yesterday is still ‘there’ for him; He sees (not foresees) your tomorrow’s acts because He is already in tomorrow.  Just as a human spectator, by watching my present act, does not at all infringe its freedom, so I am free to act as I choose in the future because God, in that future (His present) watches me acting.”

        C.S. Lewis, The Discarded Image: An Introduction to Medieval and Renaissance Literature (Cambridge University Press, 1964), p. 89.

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