This week, I’m featuring Joseph Pearce, a professor, writer, and editor I met this summer at the C. S. Lewis Summer Institute (www.cslewis.org) at Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts. In addition to being the author of numerous acclaimed biographies of major Catholic literary figures, Joseph is a Writer in Residence and Professor of Literature at Ava Maria University (www.naples.avemaria.edu) in Florida. He is also Editor-in-Chief of Ave Maria University Communications and Sapientia Press, as well as Co-Editor of the The St Austin Review (or StAR) (www.staustinreview.com), an international review of Christian culture, literature, and ideas published in England (St Austin Press) and the United States (Sapientia Press). Joseph regularly speaks at a wide variety of religious, cultural, and literary events.
LeAnne: You are a scholar on CS Lewis as well as other Christian literary figures. How did Lewis and others feel about the arts?
Joseph: C.S. Lewis’s conversion to Christianity was largely the result of what might be termed a philosophy of culture or creativity. Under the influence of his good friend J.R.R. Tolkien, Lewis came to see that man, being made in the image of God, was the product of God’s Creativity and that man’s own creativity was an important part of the imageness of God in him. As such, the arts, as manifestations of the imagination, were the fruits, through grace, of God’s image in us. For Lewis, as for Tolkien, therefore, Christ was both the center and meaning of culture.
This Christocentric view of the meaning of art was also held by G. K. Chesterton. His chapter, “The Ethics of Elfland”, in his hugely influential book, Orthodoxy, expresses this philosophy of culture very eloquently and it was a significant influence on both Lewis and Tolkien.
Although this subject is vast and would merit a whole book, there is one other writer who perhaps deserves a special mention in connection with the Christocentric nature of Art. Dorothy L. Sayers, in her book, The Mind of the Maker, writes with great profundity of the Trinitarian and Incarnational dimension of all creativity. Sayers was also hugely influenced, as a young girl, by Chesterton, particularly by Orthodoxy.
Speaking of culture, the current issue of The St Austin Review, which you co-edit, addresses the theme of culture. Can we define culture?
Many people have tried to define culture and the title of the theme of the latest issue of the St Austin Review, “Towards a Definition of Culture”, was taken from a book of this title (Notes Towards a Definition of Culture) by T.S. Eliot. Essentially, as I’ve said, all culture, as the fruit of creativity, is a manifestation of God’s creative image in us. As such, He is the ultimate source of all culture. Art and culture is literally a Gift. It is a gift of God to the creatures He created in His own Creative Image. It is, therefore, true, up to a point, to see the artist as god-like. As a creator, or more correctly a sub-creator (one who makes things from other things that already exist, as distinct from God who makes things from nothing by bringing them into existence) he is displaying, to a heightened degree, the imageness of God within himself, i.e. the god-like. The danger, however, is that the artist loses a sense of gratitude and humility and believes himself to be a god, not merely god-like. This is a sin, and is the reason why so much modern art is a perverted distortion and disfiguring of the gift of creativity.
More from Joseph Pearce on Thursday.