CS Lewis on Easter


Now, as a literary historian, I am perfectly convinced that whatever else the Gospels are they are not legends. I have read a great deal of legend and I am quite clear that they are not the same sort of thing. They are not artistic enough to be legends. From an imaginative point of view they are clumsy, they don’t work up to things properly. Most of the life of Jesus is totally unknown to us, as is the life of anyone else who lived at that time, and no people building up a legend would allow that to be so. Apart from bits of the Platonic dialogues, there are no conversations that I know of in ancient literature like the Fourth Gospel. There is nothing, even in modern literature, until about a hundred years ago when the realistic novel came into existence. In the story of the woman taken in adultery we are told Christ bent down and scribbled in the dust with His finger. Nothing comes of this. No one has ever based any doctrine on it. And the art of inventing little irrelevant details to make an imaginary scene more convincing is a purely modern art. Surely the only explanation of this passage is that the thing really happened? The author put it in simply because he had seen it.

Then we come to the strangest story of all, the story of the Resurrection. It is very necessary to get the story clear. I heard a man say, “The importance of the Resurrection is that it gives evidence of survival, evidence that the human personality survives death.” On that view what happened to Christ would be what had always happened to all men, the difference being that in Christ’s case we were privileged to see it happening. This is certainly not what the earliest Christian writers thought. Something perfectly new in the history of the Universe had happened. Christ had defeated death. The door which had always been locked had for the very first time been forced open. This is something quite distinct from mere ghost-survival. I don’t mean that they disbelieved in ghost- survival. On the contrary, they believed in it so firmly that, on more than one occasion, Christ had had to assure them that He was not a ghost. The point is that while believing in survival they yet regarded the Resurrection as something totally different and new. The Resurrection narratives are not a picture of survival after death; they record how a totally new mode of being has arisen in the universe. Something new had appeared in the universe: as new as the first coming of organic life. This Man, after death, does not get divided into “ghost” and “corpse”. A new mode of being has arisen. That is the story. What are we going to make of it?

CS Lewis

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  1. There is a passage in Acts (17:18), in which St Luke’s sardonic humour at the expense of the Stoic and Epicurian philosophers is often lost or mangled in translation.
    Now, here is the original: Ξένων δαιμονίων δοκεῖ καταγγελεὺς εἶναι• ὅτι τὸν Ἰησοῦν καὶ τὴν ἀνάστασιν εὐηγγελίζετο.
    Literally translated, word for word, “Of foreign gods he [St Paul] seems a proclaimer to be because [of] the Jesus and the Resurrection he proclaimed the good news”
    In idiomatic English, “’He seems to be a preacher of foreign divinities’—because he was proclaiming the good news of ‘Jesus’ and ‘Resurrection.’”
    In other words, they thought “Jesus” and “Resurrection” [Άνάστασις] were the names of two divinities. Note that, in accordance with common Greek usage, the article is used with both, as it frequently is with proper names: τὸν Ἰησοῦν and τὴν ἀνάστασιν.
    How much of modern preaching is so centred on Jesus and the Resurrection?

  2. Anthony Burgess said much the same thing as C.S. Lewis after he wrote the screenplay for the miniseries Jesus of Nazareth. As a professional writer he felt that the account of Peter and John running to the open tomb contained details – in particular the account of John getting there first but not entering, then Peter entering – that no one could have invented. He concluded it was a real event that must have happened exactly as recounted in the Gospel.

  3. The First Glorious Mystery, The Resurrection: desire a strong faith. Think of Jesus’ glorious triumph when He rose from the tomb and for forty days appeared to His Blessed Mother and disciples.

    Happy Easter, all! “This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.” N.B. This was the Huguenots’ battle hymn in the 16th century wars of the Henry’s.

  4. . CS is wonderful but he’s incorrect on Christ writing in the dirt as meaningless detail. Christ wrote twice in the dirt in that incident but I’ll talk only of the second time ( the first time is intricate ). In the second writing in the dirt, the accusers then leave the area not as they came in a group but separately and in order of descending age…they….” went out one by one, beginning with the eldest” Jn.8:9…Douay Rheims. The Vulgate is key here as it is also at Cana where it almost alone has Christ’s non rude words ( “woman, what to me and to you”). Christ in the second dirt writing was writing the names in age order…of the woman’s accusers with a hidden sin of theirs hinted at next to the name in the dirt. That’s why stone throwers, proud in their own seeming innocence, were disarmed into silence and into leaving…each leaving alone. Jeremiah has a oblique foretaste of this moment in Jer.17:13 DR…
    ” they that depart from thee, shall be written in the earth: because they have foresaken the Lord…”

  5. The theory I heard is that Jesus was doodling something that told the accusers that the reason that only the woman was brought was that they’d all sinned with her before, and were scapegoating her to salve their own feelings of guilt. So “judge not, lest you be judged” was pretty dang blunt.

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