26 April 2009

Religion Humbled Itself to Become Christianity

C. S. Lewis' favorite psalm was Ps. 19 (below for reference). In a 1956 letter to Mary van Deusen he explains why.

First, the mere glory of nature (between the Psalms and Wordsworth - a long gap in history - you get nothing equal to either on this theme). The the disinfectant, inexorable sun beating down on the desert and 'nothing hid from the heat thereof.' Then - implied, not stated - the imaginative identification of that heat and light with the 'undefiled' law, the 'clean' fear of the Lord, searching every cranny. Then the characteristically Jewish feeling that the Law is not only obligatory but beautiful, ravishing: delighting the heart, better than gold, sweeter than honey. Only after that, the (more Christian like) self examination and humble petition. Nearly all that could be said before the Incarnation is said in this Psalm. It is so much better Paganism than the real pagans ever did! And in one way more glorious, more soaring and triumphant, than Christian poetry. For as God humbled Himself to become Man, so religion humbled itself to become Christianity.

--C. S. Lewis, Collected Letters, 3:701-2; emphasis original (on the parenthetical statement in the first sentence, I assume he never read Edwards!)

Psalm 19
To the choirmaster. A psalm of David. The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
2 Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge.
3 There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard.
4 Their measuring line goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In them he has set a tent for the sun,
5 which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber, and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy.
6 Its rising is from the end of the heavens, and its circuit to the end of them, and there is nothing hidden from its heat.
7 The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple;
8 the precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes;
9 the fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the LORD are true, and righteous altogether.
10 More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb.
11 Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.
12 Who can discern his errors? Declare me innocent from hidden faults.
13 Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me! Then I shall be blameless, and innocent of great transgression.
14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.

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