I may have disagreed with C. S. Lewis on some theological points (see here, here, and here.). But that doesn’t mean I don’t think very highly of him.
An expert on Boethius defines a philosopher as “a wise cognitive manager and developer of civilization.” By this definition of a philosopher, C. S. Lewis might be the greatest philosopher of the twentieth century.
I think a lot of people know that Lewis is a great Christian worldview writer, by which I mean that if you want to know how to view the world Christianly, you need to read C. S. Lewis. (More good Lewis work: The C. S. Lewis Blog.) Fewer know that he’s a very good philosopher, at least by this definition of philosophy (and some others).
One of these things is not like the others! Most of these pictures are of great philosophers. But one isn’t. Can you tell which one? (Pictures from here, here, here, and here.)
I bet no one else managed to summarize Plato’s Republic in eight words: “The head rules the belly through the chest” (from The Abolition of Man).
I recently learned, in another book by Lewis, that this illustration wasn’t originally his; he borrowed it from some medieval literature. It just goes to show that C. S. Lewis doesn’t have a lot of original thoughts. I mean that as a very high compliment.
Original thoughts are overrated. Lewis was wise enough to want good thoughts, not original ones. He understood that, in the span of a single lifetime, we will have more success having good thoughts if we study the thoughts of good thinkers from ages past than if we just try to come up with our own.
Lewis’ own thoughts came to him through Scripture, Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Boethius, and even Confucius. He put these thoughts into new settings, his great books: Mere Christianity, The Great Divorce, The Screwtape Letters, The Abolition of Man, The Chronicles of Narnia, and the Space Trilogy. I would speculate that no one in the twentieth century did more than he to preserve the wisdom of past civilizations: ancient Greece, ancient Rome, medieval Europe, ancient Israel, and even Confucian China.
Some of these people didn’t have a lot of original thoughts because their minds were filled with the thoughts of great philosophers and theologians. One of them didn’t have a lot of original thoughts because his mind was almost completely empty.(Pictures from here, here, here, and here.)
It’s fitting that Lewis was one of the few great readers of Boethius in our age. Boethius is just such a philosopher. His greatest work, The Consolation of Philosophy, available here, also contains very few ideas that were his own; they were borrowings or developments from earlier thinkers like Plato, the Stoics, and Augustine. (Literary elements are also borrowed from Homer, Greek myths, Augustine’s dialogues, and sources I’m not educated enough to recognize.) But Boethius’ combination of all these ideas and literary elements was a highly original masterpiece.
Boethius himself wrote in the days of the declining Roman Empire. But his book preserved some of the best things from ancient Greece and Rome, and it helped to create medieval Europe. If modern Western Civilization should fail, don’t be surprised if Lewis’ books help to create the civilization that replaces it.
Several videos featuring the Boethius expert I mentioned begin here. This video will help introduce you to Boethius’ Consolation. (As usual, the book is way better than the movie.)
(More articles at www.ThinkingThroughChristianity.com)