“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” – John 12:24
“The last enemy to be destroyed is death...Death is swallowed up in victory.” – 1 Corinthians 15:26, 54
"The greater the sin, the greater the mercy, the deeper the death and the brighter the rebirth.” - C. S. Lewis
"This story...has the very taste of primary truth." - J. R. R. Tolkien

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

C. S. Lewis on Death and Rebirth: The Importance of “Vicariousness”

...Essential to this extension of death and rebirth from Christ to all creation is what Lewis calls the principle of Vicariousness: “The Sinless man suffers for the sinful…Everything is indebted to everything else, sacrificed to everything else, dependent on everything else…Because Vicariousness is the very idiom of the reality He has created, His death can become ours” (Lewis, Miracles 407,418). Salvation is not something earned by man, nor is new life his possession – it spreads outwards from Christ and is shared among all those who are redeemed.6 Christ says to us, “‘I will give you Myself: my own will shall become yours’” (Lewis, Mere Christianity 167). Like toy soldiers coming to life, we are reborn in Christ and each of us becomes a “little Christ.”

The same idea of Vicariousness is present in Perelandra. Christ’s death and rebirth becomes Ransom’s, and Ransom, who plays the role of a “little Christ” in order that this “good infection” (Lewis, Mere Christianity pp. 152-53) may spread to Venus, becomes Venus’ salvation:

“When Eve fell, God was not Man. He had not yet made men members of his body: since then he had, and through them henceforward he would save and suffer. One of the purposes for which He had done all this was to save Perelandra not through Himself but through Himself in Ransom” (Lewis, Perelandra 144-145).7
The gift of salvation to Venus is made all the more beautiful and rich because it has come through Ransom, and before that through Christ, as the King describes to Ransom (Lewis, Perelandra 207, 209). It is worth mentioning briefly the presence of the same theme in other works of fiction. In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Aslan suffers because of Edmund’s betrayal, and because of Aslan’s victory over death, Edmund is saved. In Till We Have Faces, Psyche performs the tasks that Orual is unable to carry out, and Orual must receive it as a free gift. The theme is the same: one suffers for another or is saved through another...

6 Here we see a contrast between prideful self-sufficiency and others-centered interdependence, a theme present in many of Lewis’ works, such as The Screwtape Letters (where “competition” is described as the philosophy of hell, and the good of one is, for Screwtape, mutually exclusive to the good of another) and The Great Divorce (where a heavenly and Christ-centered love for others is contrasted with the parasitic, self-centered “love” of the visitors from hell).
7 Downing writes that “Ransom played the role of Christ on [Perelandra], not in an allegorical sense, but because in fact all Christians must in their calling play the role of Christ” (Downing 44).

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