Quotations and Allusions in

C. S. Lewis, Miracles: A Preliminary Study

(1947, second edition 1960)




As the distance grows between the lifetime of C. S. Lewis and the present day, more and more of the many quotations and allusions in his work are likely to be lost on his readers. The following notes are intended to remedy some of this problem and perhaps provide some further help with regard to Miracles: A Preliminary Study, second edition (1960).


The format of each note is as follows; chapter & paragraph numbers are only given in case of a new paragraph.

   [cap. #/par. #] first words of paragraph
   words or phrases from Lewis’s book
   Note text.

        Quotation (if required).

Publication details about Lewis’s essays, papers and sundry shorter writings are given at www.lewisiana.nl/cslessays. Bible passages are quoted from the Authorized (King James) Version, unless stated otherwise. Corrections and additions are welcome, especially with regard to places marked with [...?]. A survey of Updates is given at the end.

Arend Smilde    

Utrecht, The Netherlands   

December 2011    





front matter


The Scope of this Book


The Naturalist and the Supernaturalist


The Cardinal Difficulty of Naturalism


Nature and Supernature


A Further Difficulty in Naturalism


Answers to Misgivings


A Chapter of Red Herrings


Miracles and the Laws of Nature


A Chapter not strictly Necessary


“Horrid Red Things”


Christianity and “Religion”


The Propriety of Miracles


On Probability


The Grand Miracle


Miracles of the Old Creation


Miracles of the New Creation




Appendix A


Appendix B






Cecil and Daphne Harwood

Cecil Harwood (1898-1975) was a life-long friend of C. S. Lewis’s since they met through Owen Barfield in 1919 as students in Oxford. Harwood and his wife Daphne Olivier played a leading role in the dissemination of Anthroposophy and promotion of Anthroposophic education in England. Lewis wrote about him in Surprised by Joy (1955), chapter 13; Harwood wrote about Lewis and also about Anthroposophy in C. S. Lewis at the Breakfast Table, ed. James T. Como (1979, republished 2005 as Remembering C. S. Lewis). See also Walter Hooper’s short biographies of Harwood in C. S. Lewis: A Companion and Guide (1996), pp. 675-679, and in Lewis’s Collected Letters I, pp. 998-1000f.




Book’s motto


Among the hills a meteorite

The poem appeared in Time and Tide on 7 December 1946, five months before Miracles was published. Time and Tide was a British political and literary magazine founded in 1920. It began as a feminist and left-wing weekly but gradually moved to a more right-wing and Christian position. Its wide range of contributors over the years included G. B. Shaw, Nancy Astor, Virginia Woolf, D. H. Lawrence, Rebecca West, Robert Graves, Charlotte Haldane, Naomi Mitchison, George Orwell and many others. Lewis contributed essays, reviews and poetry for twenty years, beginning with the essay “The Necessity of Chivalry” (as “Notes on the Way”) in August 1940.




Chapter 1: The Scope of this Book


[1/4] here is an example

In a popular commentary on the Bible

Lewis is perhaps referring to a commentary which he criticized in a somewhat similar way in a paper of 1959, “Modern Theology and Biblical Critcism” (later published as “Fern-seed and Elephants”). He there quotes from what he calls “already a very old commentary”. This was identified by Walter Hooper as A New Commentary on Holy Scripture, ed. Charles Gore et al. (S.P.C.K., London 1928), and more specifically to Walter Lock’s essay on the Gospel of John which, in turn, refers to James Drummond, An Inquiry into the Character and Authorship of the Fourth Gospel (1903).




Chapter 2: The Naturalist and the Supernaturalist



roland quizz , Giant-Land

Roland Quiz (not Quizz; the first edition of Miracles has the correct spelling) is the pseudonym of Richard M. Howard Quittenton (1833-1914). His book Giant-land: or the Wonderful Adventures of Tim Pippin was first published in 1874.

    In a letter of 28 March 1937 to his friend Arthur Greeves, Lewis mentioned a recent new edition of Giant-land and said he hoped to get hold of it one day. On 20 December 1943 he told Arthur he had found it in an Oxford library and read it “while invigilating at an exam”. He remembered from his childhood days a volume of Juvenile Rhymes and Little Stories by Quiz, and was interested to find a sequel in the present book. It explained “certain mysterious allusions to the Granite City and the Subterranean City which used to fascinate me” (Collected Letters III, pp. 213-214 and 594-595). Almost ten years later the episode of the quotation must have inspired Lewis’s own subterranean scene in his fifth Narnian story, The Silver Chair (1953), chapter 12, “The Queen of Underland”.


[2/3] i begin by considering

I begin by considering the following sentences.

The word “Nature” is the subject of the first and longest chapter in Lewis’s Studies in Words (1960), pp. 24-74 in the 1967 second edition.


[2/7] the difference between naturalism

to produce at some stage a great cosmic consciousness, an indwelling “God” arising from the whole process

See note to [4/10] an Emergent God.

    Lewis also mentioned the idea expressed here in his wartime essay “The Funeral of a Great Myth” (a mock funeral oration for evolutionism as a theory of universal progress). Believers in the myth, Lewis submits, are apt to hold not only that our present level of reason, virtue, art and civilization is the product of savage and indeed inorganic beginnings, but that today’s reason, virtue etc. in their turn must be “the crude or embryonic beginnings of far better things – perhaps Deity itself – in the remote future.”


the one original or self-existent thing

The idea of “self-existence” is developed in chapter 4, par. 6 (this question almost):

... what exists on its own must have existed from all eternity; for if anything else could make it begin to exist then it would not exist on its own but because of something else.


[2/12] in that sense there might

anything Mr. Pickwick says in Pickwick Papers to anything Mrs. Gamp hears in Martin Chuzzlewit

The Pickwick Papers (1837) and Martin Chuzzlewit (1844) are novels by the 19th-century British novelist Charles Dickens (1812-1870).




Chapter 3: The Cardinal Difficulty of Naturalism


[CHAPTER title]

In the first edition, this chapter’s title was “The Self-Contradiction of the Naturalist”.



We cannot have it both ways, and no sneers at the limitations of logic... amend the dilemma. – i. a. richards, Principles of Literary Criticism, chap. xxv.

Ivor Armstrong Richards (1893-1979), English literary critic. His Principles of Literary Criticism (1924) and Practical Criticism (1929) represented much that Lewis disliked and rejected in the modern theory and practice of literary criticism. Lewis polemized with Richards in several places, notably in his essay “Christianity and Culture” (1940), in A Preface to Paradise Lost (1942), chapter 8, and in The Abolition of Man (1943), chapter 2, note 2. In choosing this motto for his crucial chapter 3 in Miracles, Lewis was hoping to fortify his theist position with a testimony from the man he once called the “great atheist critic”. He was often careful to point out specific points which he appreciated in Richards’s work in spite of profound differences. A 1939 letter to Richards is printed in Lewis’s Collected Letters III, p. 1536.




A small amount of alcoholic drink left at the bottom of a glass after drinking.


[3/2] one threat against strict

One threat against strict Naturalism has recently been launched

Lewis is referring early-20th-century developments in physical science connected with the names of Max Planck (quantum physics) and Alfred Einstein (theory of relativity). The meaning of these developments as a possible “threat against strict Naturalism” was famously expounded in Whitehead’s Science and the Modern World (1925), mentioned in a note to chapter 13.


[3/4] it is clear that everything

the Spanish Armada

The Armada was the large fleet of warships sent by King Philip II of Spain against England in 1588 to escort an invasion from the Continent. It sustained fatal blows during combat in the English Channel and was further reduced by south-western storms in the North Sea. A considerable remnant sailing round the British isles escaped back home. Two further Armadas were sent to Ireland in 1596 and 1597, both driven back by gales.


We infer Evolution from fossils

While this was still largely true at the time of writing (ca. 1945), developments in science and technology from the 1950s on have reduced the role of fossils to that of a mere “bonus” for evolution biology; “the fossil record could be one big gap, and the evidence for evolution would still be overwhelmingly strong” – Richard Dawkins, The Ancestor’s Tale; A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Life (2004), “The General Prologue”.


[3/7] thus a strict materialism

Thus a strict materialism refutes itself

From this point onward – after the chapter’s first six paragraphs – the rest of chapter 3 is a radical rewriting and expansion of the original text as published in 1947 (see illustration below). The discarded part of the chapter comprised 1,759 words in ten paragraphs; its replacement as published since 1960 comprises 3,698 words in twenty-five paragraphs. The revision was clearly inspired, after more than a decade, by Lewis’s public debate with philosopher Elizabeth Anscombe in the Oxford Socratic Club meeting of 2 February 1948. Much has been written about this debate and its place in Lewis’s career; in 2011 the Journal of Inklings Studies devoted a special issue to the subject (Vol. I nr. 2). A full survey of further differences between the 1947 and 1960 editions is provided at www.lewisiana.nl/anscombe (click “Appendices”).

Dustjacket of Miracles, first edition, published on 12 May 1947

(click here for larger image with jacket blurb)


Professor Haldane ... Possible Worlds

J. B. S. Haldane (1895-1964) was a British geneticist, Professor of Genetics and then of Biometry at University College, London from 1933 to 1957, and a zealous populariser of science. Possible Worlds is a volume of essays published in 1927; the quote comes from chapter XXIX, “When I Am Dead” (p. 220 in the U.S. edition of 1928). Lewis also quoted these words from Haldane in a letter of 13 June 1946 to The Oxford Magazine (cf. Collected Letters II, p. 715).

    In the years around 1930, Haldane repeated the same reasoning in an essay called “Some Consequences of Materialism”, published in The Inequality of Man (1932):

I am not myself a Materialist because, if Materialism is true, it seems to me that we cannot know that it is true. If my opinions are the result of the chemical processes going on in my brain, they are determined by the laws of chemistry, not those of logic. ... To put the matter in another way, if a super-biochemist made a working model of me, atom for atom, this robot would, on a Materialistic view, have all my memories. This may be the case, but if so no knowledge is possible. (pp. 157-158 in Pelican edition, 1937)

When this essay was reprinted as “Some Reflections on Materialism” in the 1934 volume Fact and Faith, Haldane added a footnote to this paragraph stating that

I do not now find this argument as convincing as I did when I wrote it.

Undoubtedly the change of mind was one of those alluded to in Haldane’s preface to the 1934 volume: he there points out that, in addition to the state of science,

My philosophical views have also changed and, unless my brain hardens prematurely, will go on changing for some years to come. For one thing, the progress of physics, by showing that matter does not possess various properties attributed to it by metaphysicians, has rendered Materialism a good deal more plausible than seemed likely even ten years ago. For another, I have begun to assimilate Dialectical Materialism, a doctrine very different from the Mechanistic Materialism of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, and to my mind far more plausible.

See also Richard Jeffery, “C. S. Lewis and the Scientists” (The Chronicle of the Oxford C. S. Lewis Society Vol. 2, Nr. 2, May 2005, pp. 15-19). For a broader treatment of Haldane, see Mark B. Adams, “Last Judgment: The Visionary Biology of J. B. S. Haldane”, Journal of the History of Biology Vol. 33, No. 3 (December 2000), 457–491.


[3/13] but unfortunately the two

You say that because ... you are a capitalist, a hypochondriac, etc.

Lewis was fond of exposing this faulty way to refute criticism. He invented a name for it, “Bulverism”, which was the title of a an essay published on 29 March 1941. It was also the subject of his next publication: the first “Screwtape” letter, published on 2 May 1941.


[3/16] but it can be this


A affection of the hearing organ, often incurable, producing the patient’s perception of some particular sound – a hissing, beeping, rumbling, or whatever – without any external causes.


[3/18] it is agreed on all hands

“evolved” by natural selection

The theory of natural selection was not at first intimately linked to any particular idea of evolution; it merely accounted for the variety of life forms, including the great majority of them that is extinct. Darwin’s Origin of Species (1859) does not contain as single instance of the words “evolution” or “evolve”, except for the book’s very last word, probably inspired by Herbert Spencer.


[3/21] but if they did

there was a hot summer in 1959

Lewis was actually experiencing the heat of that summer while he was revising Miracles and rewriting the present chapter. He submitted the revised text to his publisher on 8 August 1959; see Collected Letters III, p. 1072.


[3/23] but the very attempt

If ... you put yourself outside it, there is then no way, except by begging the question, of getting inside again

Lewis used a partly inversed image of “inside” and “outside” when arguing for the timeless reality of basic morality, as in his essay “On Ethics” (in Christian Reflections):

Supposing we can enter the vacuum and view all Ethical Systems from the outside, what sort of motives can we then expect to find for entering any one of them? One thing is immediately clear. We can have no ethical motives for adopting any of these systems. It cannot, while we are in the vacuum, be our duty to emerge from it. ... A man with no ethical allegiance can have no ethical motive for adopting one. If he had, it would prove that he was not really in the vacuum at all.


[3/24] a still humbler position

a Sputnik

The Russian Sputnik I, launched in October 1957, was the first operational spaceship. Miracles was first published ten years earlier. While rewriting chapter 3 in 1959 Lewis introduced some recent examples.


[3/25] but then, equally

discovered from practice

This is very probably a typo: the obvious reading is “divorced from practice”. This is also suggested in Steven Jon James Lovellʼs quotation of the passage in his Ph.D. thesis Philosophical Themes from C. S. Lewis (Univ. of Sheffield, 2003; available online), p. 159, and by Richard Purtillʼs quotation in C. S. Lewis and the Case for the Christian Faith (1985), p. 26.


[3/26] on these terms

from it [reason] the orderliness of Nature, which alone enables us to know her, is derived.

While the derivation is here presented in its purely theoretical aspect, Lewis must have been thinking also of the historical side as sketched by Whitehead in Science and the Modern World (1925). As Lewis points out toward the end of chapter 13, paraphrasing Whitehead:

Men became scientific because they expected Law in Nature, and they expected Law in Nature because they believed in a Legislator.




Chapter 4: Nature and Supernature



r. g. collingwood, The Idea of Nature

Robin George Collingwood (1889-1943), philosopher and historian, was Waynflete Professor of metaphysics and a fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford, from 1935 till 1941. As a thinker he was clearly congenial to Lewis, who occasionally quoted him approvingly. According to Michael D. Aeschliman (The Restitution of Man: C. S. Lewis and the Case Against Scientism, 1983, p. 59), Lewis was always “attacking precisely those fallacies and that scientific dogmatism that Collingwood abhorred”. For an example of this, see note to [7/8] Ptolemy. Although they were fellows of the same college, very few traces of personal contact between the two men can be found in published sources. After Collingswood’s early death, his Waynflete chair eventually went to Gilbert Ryle, whom Lewis regarded as the very reverse of a congenial thinker.

    It was while Miracles was in preparation that Collingswood’s Idea of Nature was published posthumously in 1945. In the final section of his final chapter, Collingwood rounds off what he calls an “interim report on the history of the idea of nature”. Noting that we have “no guarantee that the spirit of natural science will survive the attack which now, from so many sides, is being made upon the life of human reason” he then asks: “Where do we go from here?” The opening sentence of his answer is the sentence quoted by Lewis.


[4/1] if our argument

acts of reasoning are not...

the first edition, the chapter’s opening sentence was

If our argument has been sound, rational thought or Reason is not interlocked with the great interlocking system of irrational events which we call Nature.

This was immediately followed by “I am not maintaining that consciousness” etc., the fourth sentence in the revised edition. The change reflects the radical revision of chapter 3 (see note to [3/7] Thus a strict materialism etc.).


between reason and the whole mass of non-rational events

While revising Miracles for the 1960 edition, Lewis changed the word “irrational” into “non-rational” throughout chapters 4 and 5. The first instance of “irrational” in the old chapter 4 was discarded along with most of the opening sentence (see previous note); the next instance was the present one, which originally read “the whole mass of irrational events”.        There were further small changes: for example, in the present fragment “reason” was substituted for “Reason”.


[4/4] i am only too well aware

hankering for a universe which is all of a piece

This idea is developed in chapter 9, “A Chapter not strictly Necessary”.


Bacon warned us ... Novum Organum

Francis Bacon (1561-1626), English statesman, philosopher and essayist. His Novum Organum (“New Instrument”) is a philosophical treatise in Latin, first published in 1620 and later as the second part of his unfinished Instauratio Magna, whose first part is a Latin enlargement of The Advancement of Learning (1605). A systematic exposition of ideas from The Advancement, the Organum offers a method of extending knowledge. The defects of the human mind are described (in I.35) as four types of “idols” that have to be identified and rejected: idols of the tribe, of the cave, of the market-place and of the theatre. The passage quoted is from I.45, where Bacon starts his discussion of the “idols of the tribe”, i.e. misconceptions that “arise from human nature as such”.


Science itself has already made reality appear less homogeneous

This has been explained in chapter 3, second paragraph.


[4/5] if you can, even

self-existent Reason

“Self-existence” was first mentioned in chapter 2, par. 7 (the difference between): “The Supernaturalist ... believes that the one original or self-existent thing is on a different level from, and more important than, all other things” and par. 9: “...those who believed in many gods very seldom, in fact, regarded their gods as ... self-existent.”


[4/6] this question almost

which neither slumbers nor sleeps

cf. Psalm 121:4.

Behold, he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep.


[4/7] some people may here raise

what Kant called “the I think”

Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), German philosopher, in the second edition (1787) of his Kritik der reinen Vernunft, I, “Transzendentale Elementarlehre”, §§16-18; or §§12-14 in the 1855 translation by Meiklejohn, Critique of Pure Reason, I, “Transcendental Doctrine of Elements”:

Das: Ich denke, muß alle meine Vorstellungen begleiten können; denn sonst würde etwas in mir vorgestellt werden, was gar nicht gedacht werden könnte ...

– The “I think” must accompany all my representations, for otherwise something would be represented in me which could not be thought ...


[4/10] at this point it is tempting

an Emergent God ... (Notice, Modern Reader ...)

Lewis was almost certainly alluding to the philosophers Samuel Alexander (1859-1938), author of Space, Time and Deity (1920), C. Lloyd Morgan (1852-1936), author of Emergent Evolution (1923), and perhaps also of the philosophy of A. N. Whitehead (1861-1947): pantheistically-minded thinkers who were taking account of recent developments in biology and the physical sciences.

    Lloyd Morgan and Alexander were lifelong friends and both works mentioned originated as Gifford Lectures delivered at the University of Glasgow. The concluding sentences of Alexander’s large two-volume work are

In the hierarchy of qualities the next higher quality to the highest attained is deity. God is the whole universe engaged in process towards the emergence of this new quality, and religion is the sentiment in us that we are drawn towards him, and caught in the movement of the world to a higher level of existence.

While the term “Emergent God” does not actually appear in Alexander’s book, he does point out in his preface to the 1927 new edition that “the concept of deity ... is part of the whole conception of emergence initiated by Mr. Lloyd Morgan”; later in the book he explains that he “use[d] the word ‘emergent’ after the example of Mr Lloyd Morgan” (vol. 2, ch. 1, note 7).

    For his part, Morgan in his Emergent Evolution (§ II) summarizes Alexander:

As mental evolution runs its course, there emerge, at the reflective stage of mind, the “tertiary qualities” – ideals of truth, of beauty, and of the ethically right – having relations of “value.” And beyond this, at or near the apex of the evolutionary pyramid of which space-time is the base, the quality of deity – the highest of all – emerges in us the latest products of evolution up to date.

Alexander in his 1927 preface stressed that

God as actually possessing deity does not exist, but is an ideal, is always becoming: but God as the whole universe tending towards deity does exist. Deity is a quality, and God a being. Actual God is the forecast and, as it were, divining of ideal God.

Lewis dismissed Alexander’s thought briefly in a letter of 4 January 1947 to Ruth Pitter (Collected Letters II, p. 754):

By “Deity” he means “whatever Nature is going to do next.” Deity was an organism in the pre-organic period, and was mammals in the saurian period, and was man among the apes and now is the super man. It’s all nonsense ...


by that, as you will see later, there hangs a tale

cf. Shakespeare, As You Like It II.7, 26, “...and thereby hangs a tale.”


[4/13] the relations which

a mahout visiting his own elephant

“Mahout” is derived from the Hindi word mahāut, an elephant driver or keeper in India.


[4/14] to believe that nature

better solutions of the problem of evil

Lewis’s own contribution was The Problem of Pain (1940), his debut as a Christian apologist.


[4/15] i do not maintain

the story in Genesis – as St. Jerome said ... told in the manner “of a popular poet”

Hieronymus of Stridon (c. 347-420), or St. Jerome, was perhaps the greatest scholar among the Latin Church Fathers. Living and working in Bethlehem from 386 until his death, he made the Latin translation of the Bible known as the Vulgate, which was the standard Bible text for Western Christendom for the whole medieval period. – Lewis was certainly wrong in attributing the assertion about Genesis to Jerome. The mistake appears to be due to his misreading of a passage in the Letters to Radulphus on the Mosaic Account of Creation by the English scholar John Colet (1467-1519). For further details see www.lewisiana.nl/jerome .




Chapter 5: A Further Difficulty in Naturalism



r. niebuhr, An Interpretation of Christian Ethics

Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971), American theologian. The book quoted appeared in 1936. In a letter of 14 January 1940 Lewis wrote that he was reading it as his “Sunday book” and found it “very disagreeable but not unprofitable”; in 1958 he wrote that it was the only of Niebuhr’s books he had ever read and “on the whole, reacted against it” (Collected Letters II, 324 and III, 979).


[5/1] some people regard

logical thinking as the deadest and driest of our activities

Cf. the motto to chapter 3, on “sneers at the limitations of logic” (I. A. Richards).


[5/6] such a doctrine

The Naturalist can, if he chooses, brazen it out

This passage has a very strong resemblance to chapter 2 in The Abolition of Man (1943), the book in which Lewis gave his fullest treatment to the theme of/7 the present chapter in Miracles.


[5/7] but then they must stick to it

Mr. H. G. Wells spent a long life doing so with passionate eloquence and zeal

Herbert George Wells (1866-1946), novelist and celebrated British pioneer of science fiction. An amusing picture of his zeal is given in Julian Huxley’s Memories (1970), chapter 12, describing their collaboration on The Science of Life, a encyclopaedic work on biology:

...returning from early discussions about the machinery of collaboration, I could not help thinking: “What am I doing with this little philistine?” But the next minute, recalling the compulsive enthusiasm, the convincing certainty which one recognizes in men of great achievements, I would say to myself: “Yes, but what genius he is!” (Lenin made identical remarks when H.G. visited him in Russia.)

Wells had just died when Miracles appeared. During his last years, the Second World War and the atomic bombs of 1945 made him increasingly pessimistic about humanity; his last works was titled Mind at the End of its Tether (1945).



Francisco Franco (1892-1975), Spanish general, became dictator of Spain in 1939 after the reactionary right-wing Falangists had emerged victorious from the Spanish Civil War.




Chapter 6: Answers to misgivings



aristotle, Metaphysics, I (Brevior) i

The reference is perhaps wrong: Aristotle’s Metaphysics has no Brevior (“shorter”) version, and the passage can be found at the beginning of Book II, section 1. In the traditional numbering it is section 993b.


[6/2] the rational and moral element

the boundaries of Cornwall and Devonshire

The two counties that form the southwestern tip of England; Devonshire is more commonly called Devon. The border, from Bude in the north to Plymouth in the south along the winding river Tamar, dates from the 10th century and is indeed full of “dents” and “bulges” – though hardly more so than many another old border in England or elsewhere.


[6/4] when you are looking at a garden

a story told about a Redskin



[6/5] all these instances show

the Sixteenth Century, when Science was born ... to know Nature and to master her

In the last chapter of The Abolition of Man (1943), Lewis discussed the birth of Science at slightly grater length. As a medievalist engaged in writing a standard work on 16th-century English literature, Lewis could claim some professional authority for this statement. However, for his view of the birth of science and its role in the modern world, he was almost certainly relying also on Alfred North Whitehead’s Science and the Modern World. He quotes this book in chapters 9 and 13, below; on a later occasion he called it “a profound book” (English Literature in the Sixteenth Century, Bibliography V.3, “Philosophy”, p. 618).




Chapter 7: A Chapter of Red Herrings



Thence came forth Maul, a giant ... bunyan

From John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress, Part Two (1684), an episode near the end of the Fifth Stage.


[7/5] the idea that the progress

St. Joseph discovered that his fiancée was going to have a baby

Matthew 1:18-25. See note to [15/9] Virgin Birth.


[7/6] if the miracles were offered

man-eating ants and gryphons in Scythia, etc.

Some of these examples come from the Histories of Herodotus, a Greek traveller and writer of the fifth century BC; e.g. the man-eating (or in any case very large and dangerous) ants are mentioned in Book III, 102-105, the gryphons of Scythia in Book IV, 13 and 17.


“know not a man.”

Luke 1:34.

Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?


[7/8] whatever its value may be

Ptolemy ... the whole earth ... a point with no magnitude

Claudius Ptolemaeus, ancient mathematician, astronomer and geographer of the second century AD. He was a Roman living in Alexandria, Egypt, and wrote in Greek. The reference is to Almagest I.5. Lewis often drew attention to this fact about medieval cosmology both in his apologetic and scholarly work – e.g. in The Problem of Pain (1940), chapter 1, and in his 1956 lecture “Imagination and Thought in the Middle Ages”.

    There is a striking resemblance between such places and a passage in Collingwood’s The Idea of Nature, II.1, §3 (cf. Lewis’s motto to chapter 4):

The philosophical significance of this new astronomy [i.e. Copernicus’s work of on the solar system, in the 16th century] was profound, but it has often been misunderstood. It is commonly said that its effect was to diminish the importance of the earth in the scheme of things and to teach man that he is only a microscopic parasite on a small speck of cool matter revolving round tone of the minor stars. This is an idea both philosophically foolish and historically false. Philosophical foolish, because no philosophical problem, whether connected with the universe, or with man, or with the relation between them, is at all affected by considering the relative amount of space they occupy: historically false, because the littleness of man in the world has always been a familiar theme of reflection. Boethius’s De Consolatione Philosophiae, which has been called the most widely read book of the Middle Ages, contains the following words: “Thou hast learnt from astronomical proofs that the whole earth compared with the universe is no greater than a point, that is, compared with the sphere of the heavens, it may be thought of as having no size at all. Then, of this tiny corner, it is only one-quarter that, according to Ptolemy, is habitable to living things. Take away from this quarter the seas, mashes, and other desert places, and the space left for man hardly even deserves the name of infinitesimal.” (Book ii, Prosa vii.) Every educated European for a thousand years before Copernicus knew that passage, and Copernicus had no need to risk condemnation for heresy in order to repeat its substance.
  The true significance of his astronomical discoveries was far more important. It consisted not so much in displacing the world’s centre from the earth to the sun as in implicitly denying that the world has a centre at all.


Boethius, King Alfred, Dante, and Chaucer

– Boethius, Roman statesman and philosopher (480-524). As a prisoner of the Gothic king Theoderic and awaiting a cruel execution he wrote The Consolation of Philosophy (De consolatione philosophiae), one of the most widely read books of the Middle Ages; see the Collingwood quote above.

– King Alfred, or Alfred the Great (849-899), king of Wessex and overlord of England, translated Boethius into English and greatly encouraged writing and learning in English.

– Dante Alighieri (1265-1321) , Italian poet, author of the Commedia (Divine Comedy).

– Geoffrey Chaucer (c. 1340-1400), English poet, author of the Canterbury Tales and translator of French and Italian works.


Mr. H. G. Wells or Professor Haldane

– Wells: see note to [5/7] Mr. H. G. Wells.

– Haldane: see note to [3/7] Professor Haldane. In 1946 Haldane published a critical review of Lewis’s “Space Trilogy”, after which Lewis wrote a “Reply” that was not published until 1982. This reply is one of the other places where Lewis mentioned Ptolemy’s view of the earth as a point with no magnitude (see note to [7/8] Ptolemy).


[7/10] when the doctor at a post-mortem

Now the odd thing is that both alternatives are equally used as objections

Lewis is repeating almost verbatim portions from his essay “Dogma and the Universe”, published in two parts in The Guardian in March 1943. Half a year earlier he had contributed the essay “Miracles”. The theme of the universe being either empty or full but always telling against Christianity briefly surfaced again when Lewis wrote about the Space Race of the late 1950s and early 1960s; see his essays “Religion and Rocketry” (1958) and “The Seeing Eye” (1963).


“come down from heaven”

A phrase from the Nicene Creed (325-381 AD), as translated in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer.

Who for us men, and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, and was made man...


as the policeman in the story ... whatever he does “will be used in evidence against Him.”

cf. James Stephens, The Crock of Gold (1912), chapter 14.

    In the first edition of Miracles, the text reads:

We treat God as the police treat a man when he is arrested; whatever He does will be used in evidence against Him.

A letter of 18 February 1960 (CL3, 1135) suggests that Lewis’s publisher, Jocelyn Gibb, had warned him that this might give offence. Lewis then proposed the changes which are actually found in the revised edition.

    Lewis was referring to “the humour both of the philosopher and the policemen” in this fantasy story as early as  February 1917 in a letter to Arthur Greeves (Collected Letters I, 280). In his 1946 piece on “Period Criticism” he mentioned “the arrest of the Philosopher” as one of the book’s “gigantic … comic effects”.


[7/16] we are inveterate poets

the silence of the eternal spaces terrified Pascal

Blaise Pascal (1623-1662), French mathematician and philosopher. The reference is to Pensées, Nr. 206 (Brunschvicg edition).

Le silence éternel de ces espaces infinis m’effraie.


overcrow our spirits

Shakespeare, Hamlet V.2, 345.

                                       O, I die, Horatio!
The potent poison quite o
ʼer-crows my spirit.

In some later editions overcrow has become overcrowd. The parallel passage in Lewis’s essay “Dogma and the Universe” has overcross. The correct reading is found both in the first edition and early printings of the revised edition.




Chapter 8: Miracle and the Laws of Nature



... whatever Miss T. eats / Turns into miss T. – w. de la mare

Walter John de la Mare (1873-1956), English poet; his Complete Poems were published in 1969. Lewis quotes the first four lines of a 14-line poem called “Miss T.”


[8/5] if the laws of nature

“like a thief in the night”

2 Peter 3:10 (cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:2).

But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night.

Peter and Paul were probably remembering or quoting Jesus’s words as recorded in Matthew 24:42-43 and Luke 12:39.



… that the total events, if we could grasp it …

The plural, events, introduced in the 1960 revised edition is certainly a typo. The first edition has the correct singular form, event.



Chapter 9: A Chapter not strictly Necessary


[9/2] one of the things

I wrote a poem in those days about a sunrise

The poem does not appear to have survived.


[9/5] to say that god

Falstaff or Sam Weller

Falstaff is a character in Shakespeare’s plays The Merry Wives of Windsor, Henry IV (1 & 2), and Henry V . Sam Weller is a character in Charles Dickens’s novel The Pickwick Papers.


the “Correggiosity” of Correggio

Correggio (1494-1534) was an Italian painter distinctive for the way he used perspective, foreshortening, contrasts of light and shadow, and softness of outlines.


[9/6] nature is by human

Othello ... Perdita ... Lady Macbeth

Like Falstaff [9/5], all these are characters in various plays by Shakespeare: Othello in Othello, Perdita in A Winter’s Tale (a comedy), Lady Macbeth in Macbeth.




Chapter 10: “Horrid Red Things”



edwyn bevan, Symbolism and Belief

Edwyn Robert Bevan 1870-1943, English scholar of ancient history and religion. Symbolism and Belief originated as The Gifford Lectures for 1933-1934 and was first published in 1938.

    Already in 1940 Lewis referred to Bevan’s book in his first work of Christian apologetics, The Problem of Pain (ch. 8), and recommended it to his former pupil Mary Neylan (“a good many misunderstandings are cleared away by [it]” – Collected Letters II, p. 375). In subsequent years, when Lewis mentioned the book he almost invariably did so in strongly recommending terms. Thus in a 1959 letter to Mary Van Deusen, “I think it helps more than any book I know to keep one right on all ‘modernism’” – CL III, 1012). In the last year of his life, when asked “what Christian writers have helped you?”, his answer included Symbolism and Belief (“Cross-examination”, 1963).


[10/2] the difficulties of the unbeliever

Jupiter or Odin

Jupiter was the supreme god of ancient Roman mythology; Odin (Woden, Wotan) was the god of wisdom, poetry, agriculture, war and the dead in ancient Germanic religion.


“Son” ... “come down from Heaven”

See note to [7/10] “came down from heaven”.


[10/3] It is this impression

Thus, at any rate, I used to think myself.

Lewis’s adolescent attitude to religion is expressed in his early letters to Arthur Greeves, now available in Collected Letters I, and previously published in They Stand Together: The Letters of C. S. Lewis to Arthur Greeves (1914-1963), ed. Walter Hooper (1979).


the Golden Bough

The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion (1890-1914), by Scottish anthropologist James George Frazer (1854-1941), is a wide-ranging comparative study of myths and rituals all over the world.


the very man who taught me to think

William T. Kirkpatrick (1848-1921), Lewis’s private teacher in 1914-1917, described in chapter 9 of Lewis’s autobiography Suprised by Joy (1955).


Rationalist Press Association

An organization set up in 1899 to ensure publication of literature which was too anti-religious to be welcome with regular publishers. The RPA renamed itself “Rationalist Association” in 2002 and publishes the New Humanist magazine, which started as Wattsʼs Literary Guide in 1885); see www.newhumanist.org.uk.


[10/6] in order to explain

Mr. Owen Barfield’s Poetic Diction

Arthur Owen Barfield (1898-1997), English philosopher, writer, critic and lawyer, was a friend of Lewis since their undergraduate days in Oxford. He began writing Poetic Diction: A Study In Meaning in 1921 as a B.Litt. thesis and it was published in 1928, with a dedication to C. S. Lewis. See www.owenbarfield.org.


Mr. Edwyn Bevan’s Symbolism and Belief

See note to this chapter’s motto.


[10/9] in these examples

you don’t find horrid red things inside it

Cf. Lewis’s 1944 article for the Church of England Newspaper, “ʻHorrid Red Thingsʼ” (1944).


[10/13] let us now apply this

Christ “came down from Heaven”

Another reference to this phrase from the Nicene Creed; cf. note to chapters 7 and 10.


[10/15] as far, then, as the adult christian

“sat down at the right hand of the Father”

Another phrase from the Nicene Creed; see note above.



The capital of Egypt and a major centre of learning in Ptolemaic and Roman times. Lewis made exactly the same kind of reference to Alexandria in “Is Theology Poetry?”, a 1944 paper for the Oxford Socratic Club. In that year he made the same point also in “‘Horrid Red Things’” (see note to [10/7] you don’t find).


[10/16] even if it could be shown

The sect in the Egyptian desert ... is condemned: the desert monk ... “muddleheaded.” ... Cassian quoted in Gibbon, Senex mente confusus

The reference is to the six-volume The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1776-1789), chapter XLVII, footnote 13 at the end of the chapter’s second section. The desert monk in question was called Serapion, “one of the saints of the Nitrian desert”. Cassian is Johannes Cassianus (c. 360-c. 435), a founding father of early Christian monasticism, and Gibbon was quoting Cassian’s Collationes Patrum, X.2, a collection of talks (probably fictitious) with Egyptian hermits.


[10/19] we are often told

Mr. Barfield

Another reference to Owen Barfield’s Poetic Diction (1928); see note to [10/6] Mr. Owen Barfield’s.


[10/18] the christian doctrines

Christ ... when he told us to carry the cross

Gospel of Matthew 10:38, 16:24, and parallel places in the Gospels of Mark and Luke.




Chapter 11: Christianity and “Religion”



thomas erskine of linlathen

Scottish advocate and lay theologian (1788-1870). Lewis is quoting from Letters of Thomas Erskine of Linlathen, edited by William Hanna and first published in two volumes by David Douglas, Edinburgh, in 1877. The quotation is found in the one-volume second edition (1878), chapter XX, “Reminiscences by Arthur P. Stanley, D.D., Dean of Westminster”, page 458.

    This chapter motto appears to be the only published reference Lewis ever made to Erskine or his writings. Lewis’s interest in him was most likely raised by Erskine’s connections and friendship with George Macdonald. For some account of this background see, for example, references to Erskine in two early works on Macdonald: Joseph Johnson, George MacDonald: A biographical and critical appreciation (1906) and Greville MacDonald, George MacDonald and His Wife (1924).


[11/3] in the first place it is usually

anthropomorphic attributes drop off one by one

A similar Lewisian thumbnail history, not of religion but of philosophy, can be found in a preface he wrote in 1952 for a book called The Hierarchy of Heaven and Earth, by D. E. Harding. Lewis’s objection there is not that it is a “fanciful” history, but that the process of “emptying” the universe defeats itself. Recognizing that “the advance of knowledge gradually empties this rich and genial universe [as experienced by primitive humanity] first of its gods, then of its colours, smells, sounds and tastes, finally of solidity itself ...” he points out that

the same method which has emptied the world now proceeds to empty ourselves. ... We, who have personified all other things, turn out to be ourselves mere personifications. Man is akin to the gods: that is, he is no less phantasmal than they.

This preface was later reprinted as “The Empty Universe” in Present Concerns (1986) and Essay Collection (2000).


[11/4] now this imagined history

the orenda of a savage tribe

Orenda is an Iroquois word for a mysterious power in all sorts of natural objects. A similar concept is that of mana in Polynesian and Melanesion religion.


the Stoics

An ancient Greek school of philosophy, founded by Zeno around 300 B.C. and lasting for about 500 years. Its pantheistic teachings about a universal Logos (Reason) and its presence in every individual thing or being as Logos spermatikos (Creative Reason) were largely a matter of its early centuries. Later Stoicism took a more strictly practical and ethical turn in Seneca, Epictetus and Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius. In the Bible the Stoics are mentioned, along with the Epicureans, as the kind of people in Athens who were happy to hear what the apostle Paul had to say and to have interesting discussions with him (Acts 17:18).


Bruno and Spinoza

– Giordano Bruno (1548-1600), Italian philosopher and Dominican friar who on the basis of the new cosmology of Copernicus developed a monistic an pantheistic philosophy. He was burnt at the stake for heresy in Rome.

– Baruch de Spinoza (1632-1677), Dutch philosopher who developed, much more consistently than Bruno, a monistic philosophy and proposed to use “Nature” and “God” as interchangeable terms denoting the totality of all that exists.

    A good brief discussion of Bruno and Spinoza, their pantheism and their relation to the science of their days, is found in Collingwood’s The Idea of Nature (1945); cf. note to the motto of chapter 4, above. According to a massively researched recent view, Spinoza’s monism was not so much a return to ancient tendencies as the one true origin of the Enlightenment and hence of the modern world (Jonathan Israel, Radical Enlighten­ment, 2001; Enlightenment Contested, 2006; Democratic Enlightenment, 2011).


Hegel ... Wordsworth, Carlyle and Emerson

– Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831), German philosopher.

– William Wordsworth (1770-1850), English poet.

– Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881), Scottish essayist and historian.

– Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882), U.S. poet and essayist.



The term may refer in general to any system of thought concerned with the relationship between God and creation and direct experience of the divine; Lewis probably refers to the teachings of the Theosophical Society, founded in 1875 in New York (but soon moving its headquarters to India).


the worship of the life-force

“Worship” in a loose and informal sense. “Life force” was a term of which the original French form – élan vital – got currency through the writings of French philosopher Émile Bergson (1859-1941). In England it was popularized by the prolific writer and dramatist Bernard Shaw (1856-1950). Lewis may have been thinking also of the English novelist D. H. Lawrence (1885-1930), whose novels glorify the beauty of nature and instinct, especially the sexual impulse.


[11/4, note] a Minister of Education

Lewis may be referring to Ellen Wilkinson, Minister of Education in the Labour Government under Clement Attlee until her death on 6 February 1947.


[11/5] this native bent of the mind

Men believed in atoms centuries before...

The earliest forms of “atomism” in philosophy were developed in the 5th century B.C. by the early Greek philosophers Leucippus and Democritus, and later by the Roman poet Lucretius (98-55 B.C.) in his didactic poem De rerum natura, Book I and II.


Schrödinger ... Democritus

Democritus is the ancient Greek philosopher mentioned in the note above. Erwin Schrödinger (1887-1961) was an Austrian physicist and  Nobel laureate in 1933. Lewis is slightly more explicit in his 1942 essay “Miracles” about one issue which he thought Schrödinger “knew too much” about:

To explain even an atom Schrödinger wants seven dimensions ...

Lewis may have been remembering here a passage in a popular book on modern physics which he certainly knew, The Mysterious Universe (1931, 2nd ed. 1931) by Sir James Jeans (p. 106-107 in the post-1933 Cambridge reprint with corrections):

... a single electron isolated in space provides a perfectly eventless universe, the simplest conceivable event occurring when two electrons meet one another. And to describe, in its simplest terms, what happens when two electrons meet one another, the wave-mechanics asks for a system of waves in an ether which has seven dimensions; six are of space, and one is of time. ... Most physicists would, I think, agree that the seven-dimensional space in which the wave-mechanics pictures the meeting of two electrons in purely fictitious, in which case the waves which accompany the electrons must also be regarded as fictitious. Thus Professor Schrödinger, writing of the seven-dimensional space, says that although it 

has quite a definite physical meaning, it cannot very well be said to “exist”; hence a wave-motion in this space cannot be said to “exist”  in the ordinary sense of the word either. It is merely an adequate mathe­matical description of what happens. It may be that also in the case of one single [electron], the wave-motion must not be taken to “exist” in too literal a sense, although the configuration-space happens to coincide with ordinary space in this particular simple case.

While this quote from Schrödinger (without source reference) in itself hardly confirms Lewis’s idea that the physicist “knows” too much, it is Jeans who adds,

Yet it is hard to see how we can attribute a lower degree of reality to the one set of waves than to the other: it is absurd to say that the waves of single electrons are real, while those of pairs of electrons are fictitious. And the waves of single electrons are real enough to record themselves on a photographic plate ...


St. Athanasius ... he also knows too much

Athanasius of Alexandria (c. 295-373), Church Father, defender of orthodoxy as defined in the Nicene Creed against the Arian heresy. His De incarnatione Verbi is an exposition of the doctrine that Jesus Christ was true God and true Man; his Orationes contra gentes are a further exposition of the divinity of Christ. The claim that Athanasius “knew” more than Shaw, while good as a piece of impish rhetoric, is better developed in “Dogma and the Universe” (1943), one of Lewis’s essays that led up to Miracles:

Wherever there is real progress in knowledge, there is some knowledge that is not superseded. ... New bottles for new wine, by all means: but not new palates, throats and stomachs, or it would not be, for us, “wine” at all.... [T]he positive historical statements made by Christianity have the power, elsewhere found chiefly in formal principles, of receiving, without intrinsic change, the increasing complexity of meaning which increasing knowledge puts into them.

See also chapter 14, below,  penultimate paragraph:

The whole Miracle [i.e. the Incarnation], far from denying what we already know of reality, writes the comment which makes that crabbed text plain: or rather, proves itself to be the text on which Nature was only the commentary.


Mr. Bernard Shaw

See note to [11/3] the worship of the life-force. The “Mr.” is noteworthy as a sign that Shaw, born in 1856, was still alive when Miracles was published in 1947. The continued liveliness of his mind was shown in that same year when Arthur C. Clarke sent him a new paper on “The Challenge of the Spaceship”: Shaw responded by joining the British Inter­planetary Society for the remaining three years of his life (cf. Clarke, The Challenge of the Spaceship (1958), 1980 Pocket Book edition, p. 13, note).


[11/7] at every point christianity

“cold Christs and tangled Trinities”

From a short poem by Rudyard Kipling in Plain Tales from the Hills (1888), serving as the first tale’s motto:

Look, you have cast out Love! What Gods are these
     You bid me please?
The Three in One, the One in Three? Not so!
     To my
own Gods I go.
It may be they shall give me greater ease
Than your cold Christ and tangles Trinities.



Professor Whitehead ... paying God ill-judged “metaphysical compliments”

Alfred North Whitehead, Science and the Modern World (1925), last paragraph of chapter 12, “God”:

Among medieval and modern philosophers, anxious to establish the religious significance of God, an unfortunate habit has prevailed of paying to Him metaphysical compliments.


[11/11] the error which i am

if we fully understood what God is we should see that there is no question whether He is

Lewis is here pretty close to the “ontological argument” for the existence of God, formulated by Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109) in his Proslogion, cap. 2. Defining God as “that than which nothing greater can be conceived” (aliquid, quo nihil maius cogitari possit), Anselm argued that non-existence would surely make God smaller than that, so that He must exist.

    Cf. also Lewis’s chapter 4, above, last paragraph: “In fact one seldom meets people who have grasped the existence of a supernatural God and yet deny that He is the Creator.”


[11/14] our own situation is

In St. Paul’s language

2 Corinthians 5:2-4 (NIV).

... we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling ... we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.


only He who does the will of the Father will ever know the true doctrine

John 7:17.

If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.


“Oh, taste and see!”

Psalm 34:8.

O taste and see that the Lord is good.


[11/15] “a spirit and a vision”

“A Spirit and a Vision,” said Blake...

William Blake (1757-1827), English poet and painter. He wrote A Descriptive Catalogue of Pictures, Poetical and Historical Inventions (1809) as a guide to an exhibition of his own engravings, notably a series of illustrations for Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Blake was often scathingly critical of contemporary conventions, values, tastes and theories. The idea expressed here is one which Lewis seems to have used for his own theological fantasy The Great Divorce (1946), although he acknowledged the idea for that book to a sciencefiction writer whose name he had forgotten.


[11/16] and here the subject of imagery

Old Testament picture of Jahweh thundering and lightning

For example, in Exodus 19:16, the episode leading up to the promulgation of the Ten Commandments. Jahweh (or JHWH) is one of the names of God in the Hebrew Bible.


making mountains skip like rams

Psalm 114:4-6.


Spirit ... must be pictured ... as something heavier than matter.

This is what Lewis did in The Great Divorce (see note to [11/15] “A Spirit and a Vision”).


[11/18] again, we may find

the “still, small voice”

1 Kings 19:12.

And after the earthquake a fire: but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice.

The NIV has “... a gentle whisper”.




Chapter 12: The Propriety of Miracles



seeley, Ecce Homo

John Robert Seeley (1834-1895), English historian and essayist. Ecce Homo, published anonymously in 1865, was a widely read and much discussed Life of Christ.


[12/3] now one often finds

over-punctilious and pedantic ... The classical critics were shocked at the “irregularity” or “licenses” of Shakespeare

A “regular” playwright in the 17th century, especially in France, was thought to be one who observed the rule of the “Three Unities”: unity of Action, of Place, and of Time. William Shakespeare (1564-1616) did not usually follow this rule at all. While Lewis may have been thinking of French Shakespeare criticism, it is hardly true to say that English critics, classical or otherwise, were ever actually “shocked” by Shakespeare’s supposed failure. Major critics such as John Dryden (1631-1700) and Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) when noting Shakespeare’s “licences” at all as licenses, made sure to point out that he would certainly not have been a better writer if he had cared to be more “regular”.


The Winter’s Tale

A late play by Shakespeare, the last-but-one of his comedies.


[12/4] in other words, there are

“work which God worketh from the beginning to the end”

Ecclesiastes 3:11.

He hath made every thing beautiful in his time: also he hath set the world in their heart, so that no man can find out the work that God maketh from beginning to the end.

Modern translation are quite different.


[12/5] for who can suppose

the best illustration of all is Bergson’s

Henri Bergson (1859-1941); see note to [11/4] the worship of the life-force. Lewis is referring to Bergson’s most famous work, Évolution créatrice (1907, translated in 1911 as Creative Evolution), chapter I, final section “L’élan vital” (“The vital impetus”), sixth paragraph:

Un artiste de génie a peint une figure sur la toile. Nous pourrons imiter son tableau avec des carreaux de mosaïque multi­colores. Et nous reproduirons d’autant mieux les courbes et les nuances du modèle que nos carreaux seront plus petits, plus nombreux, plus variés de ton. Mais il faudrait une infinité d’éléments infiniment petits, présentant une infinité de nuances, pour obtenir l’exact équi­valent de cette figure que l’artiste à con­çue comme une chose simple, qu’il a voulu transporter en bloc sur la toile, et qui est d’autant plus achevée qu’elle apparaît mieux comme la projection d’une intuition indivisible.

An artist of genius has painted a figure on his canvas. We can imitate his picture with many-colored squares of mosaic. And we shall reproduce the curves and shades of the model so much the better as our squares are smaller, more numerous and more varied in tone. But an infinity of ele­ments infinitely small, presenting an infinity of shades, would be necessary to obtain the exact equi­valent of the figure that the artist has con­ceived as a simple thing, which he has wished to transport as a whole to the canvas, and which is the more complete the more it strikes us as the projection of an indivisible intuition.

Bergson briefly returned to his example in the book’s final section, “The Evolutionism of Spencer”:

... l’acte de dessiner et de peindre n’a aucun rapport avec celui d’assembler les frag­ments d’une image déjà des­sinée, déjà peinte.

...the act of drawing and painting has nothing to do with that of putting to­gether the fragments of a picture already drawn and already painted.


[12/6] how a miracle can be

Dorothy Sayers ... The Mind of the Maker

The Mind of the Maker, by Dorothy L. Sayers (1893-1957), appeared in 1941. Lewis is referring to chapter 5, “Free Will and Miracle”, last paragraph:

The agents of the miraculous which the novelist has at his command are, roughly speaking, conversion and coincidence; either a character or a situation is abruptly changed, not by anything developing out of the essentials of the story, but by the personal divine intervention of the creator. Yet it will not altogether do to say that neither conversion nor coincidence is ever permissible in a story. ... [T]he will of the creator becomes a character in the story; just as, theologically, all miracles depend on the assumption that God is a character in history. But even so, it is necessary that God should act in conformity with His own character. The study of our analogy will lead us perhaps to believe that God will be chary of indulging in irrelevant miracle, and will use it only when it is an integral part of the story.

Lewis’s debt to Sayers in writing Miracles was perhaps larger than appears from this one reference. In a letter to Lewis of 13 May 1943 she complained that “there aren’t any up-to-date books about Miracles”, and on 17 May he replied telling her “I’m starting a book on Miracles.” Walter Hooper thinks it likely that Sayers provided “exactly the encouragement Lewis needed to write his own book on the subject” (Collected Letters II, p. 573).



A friend of mine wrote a play

One instance of a similar story being told to Lewis is recounted in his diary for 29 May 1922, as published in All My Road Before Me (1992), p. 42.



Chapter 13: On Probability



hume, Treatise of Human Nature, I, III, vi.

David Hume (1711-1776), Scottish philosopher and historian, and a major proponent of atheism. A Treatise of Human Nature (1739-1740) was his first published work.


[13/6] ever since hume’s famous essay

Hume’s famous Essay

i.e. Hume’s essay Of Miracles, first published in 1758 as section X of An Enquiry concerning Human Understanding. This book was an enlarged edition of the one published in 1748 as Philosophical Essays concerning Human Understanding. The section Of Miracles has often been reprinted as a separate publication, e.g. as the 60-page Open Court Classics edition (1985) introduced and annotated by Antony Flew.

    The two phrases quoted from Hume, “firm and unalterable experience” and “uniform experience”, appear toward the end of the essay’s first part, or the Enquiry’s sub-sections 89 and 90.


[13/14] but i am convinced

“In science,” said the late Sir Arthur Eddington ... the fitness of things

Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington (1882-1944), British astronomer and popular writer on science. The quotation, with a small ellipsis, is from the The Nature of the Physical World (1928, Gifford Lectures 1927), last chapter (XV), “Science and Mysticism”, near the end of the section called “Conviction”:

In science we sometimes have convictions as to the right solution of a problem which we cherish... [etc.]


[13/17] the sciences logically require

Professor Whitehead points out ... Science and the Modern World

The footnote is wrong: Lewis is in fact referring to chapter I of Whitehead’s book, not chapter II. The epithet “our greatest natural philosopher” may partly go back to Collingwood’s Idea of Nature (see first note to chapter 4, above). On page 79 of that book, Collingwood notes that Whitehead’s judgement of Plato’s Timaeus

deserves the utmost respect as that of one of the greatest living philosophers and perhaps the greatest living writer on cosmology. In Whitehead’s opinion the Timaeus comes nearer than any other book to providing the philosophical setting required by the ideas of modern physical science.


[13/20] if in giving such weight

Mother Egarée Louise

The name seems to be an invention of Lewis; égarer is French for “getting lost”, “going astray”; St Anthony is a saint traditionally invoked as Patron Saint of lost things and people.


the “rosy pudency”

Shakespeare, Cymbeline II.5, 11. Posthumus talking about his wife:

Me of my lawful pleasure she restrain’d
And pray’d me oft forbearance; did it with
A pudency so rosy, the sweet view on’t
Might well have warm’d old Saturn; that I thought her
As chaste as unsunn’d snow.




Chapter 14: The Grand Miracle



A light that shone from behind the sun ... charles williams

Lines 307-308 from “The Calling of Taliessin”, the second section in The Region of the Summer Stars (1944), an Arthurian long poem by Charles Williams. An intimate friend of Lewis, Williams died around the time when Lewis finished writing Miracles. The first line is also quoted in Lewis’s last book, Letters to Malcolm (1963), as the last words of chapter 5.

    In The Four Loves (1960), chapter 6, par. 21, Lewis cites another phrase from The Region of the Summer Stars:  “the land of the Trinity”, which he considered to be closely related to the image of “light from behind the sun” (cf. Williams & Lewis, Arthurian Torso [1948], p. 103).


[14/2] the fitness or credibility

we are asked to regard all the theological elements as later accretions

Lewis developed this particular objection to mid-20th-century modern theology notably in his 1959 essay “Modern Theology and Biblical Criticism”, later published as “Fern-seed and Elephants” in Christian Reflections.


the whole thing began with vegetation myths and mystery religions

Vegetation myths are stories about gods who somehow undergo death and rebirth, like Osiris in ancient Egyptian religion. Mystery religions were popular in the Roman empire during the early Christian centuries, purporting to initiate believers into secrets and rituals that remain closed to other people. Lewis is referring to the “evolutionary” thought pattern current around the turn of the 20th century, envisaging all things as complex and civilized products of simple and primitive beginnings. For the study of religion this was exemplified by Frazer’s Golden Bough (see note to [10/3] the Golden Bough). Lewis’s critique of this approach is further developed later on in the present chapter and in his papers “Is Theology Poetry?” and “The Funeral of a Great Myth”, both written while he was working on Miracles.


[14/3] since the incarnation

We believe that the sun is in the sky at midday [etc.]

cf. the last sentence of “Is Theology Poetry?” (see previous note):

I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen not only because I see it but because by it I see everything else.


[14/4] the first difficulty that

understanding that there must be a still unobserved planet beyond Uranus

This planet beyond Uranus is Neptune, discovered almost simultaneously by two astronomers, John Adams in England and Le Verrier in France, in the summer of 1845. Uranus had been discovered by Sir William Herschel in 1781 as the first planet beyond the five (barring Earth) known to humanity since time immemorial. Curiously, the two discoverers of Neptune each had an incorrect idea of the distant planet’s course around the sun and nevertheless had a correct idea of its position at the moment of their telescopic searchings. Pluto, no longer counted as a planet today, was not discovered until 1930.


in a very minor key

Lewis’s understanding of musical theory appears to be imperfect. It is not possible for a minor or major key to be “very” minor or major. The key of any passage or movement is simply either major or minor.


Montaigne became kittenish with his kitten but she never talked philosophy to him

Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592), French writer, originator of the “essay” as a literary genre. The first full collection of his Essais was published in 1588. The Apologie de Raimond Sebond (Book II, nr. 12) is the longest essay of all (almost 80,000 words in English translation). Purportedly a defence of a 14th-century Spanish work of natural theology and, more generally, of traditional Christianity and the established Church, the “Apology” is in effect a major early-modern manifesto of philosophical scepticism.

    Lewis is interpreting and critiquing Montaigne’s observation rather than just citing it. In the passage referred to (at about 9 percent of the total length from the essay’s beginning) Montaigne is inquiring “upon what foundation [man] hath built those great advantages and ods he supposeth to have over other creatures”, arguing that this foundation is very weak indeed:

Presumption is our naturall and originall infirmitie. Of all creatures man is the most miserable and fraile, and therewithall the proudest and disdainfullest. ...  It is through the vanitie of the same imagination that he dare equall himself to God, that he ascribeth divine conditions unto himself, that he selecteth and separateth himselfe from out the ranke of other creatures ... How knoweth he by the vertue of his understanding the inward and secret motions of beasts? By what comparison from them to us doth he conclude the brutishnesse he ascribeth unto them? When I am playing with my cat, who knowes whether she have more sport in dallying with me than I have in gaming with her?

–– John Florio’s translation (1603)

The original French of the last sentence is

Quand je me jouë à ma chatte, qui sçait si elle passe son temps de moy plus que je ne fay d’elle?

A little further on Montaigne notes,

The defect which hindreth the communication betweene them and us, why may it not as well be in us as in them? It is a matter of divination to guesse in whom the fault is that we understand not one another. For we understand them no more than they us. By the same reason, may they as well esteeme us beasts as we them.

Again, after dozens of pages with observations on animal behaviour, he concludes that

it appeareth that it is not long of [=due to] a true discourse, but of a foolish hardinesse and selfe-perfuming obstinacie, we prefer ourselves before other creatures, and sequester our selves from their condition and societie.

Lewis’s point is precisely opposed to Montaigne’s: the distinction between “higher” and “lower” powers (as exemplified by man and beast respectively) is what Lewis affirms against Montaigne’s denial.


[14/7] the doctrine of the incarnation

Adonis, Osiris, or another

Adonis was a deity in ancient Greek mythology; as the handsome lover both of Aphrodite and of Persephone, he was ordered by Zeus to live with the former on earth during the spring and summer, and with the latter in the underworld during the other two seasons. From early times the Adonis myth was felt to symbolize the death and rebirth of nature. Osiris, a major god in ancient Egyptian religion, was the god of the dead, the underworld, and resurrection.


[14/10] the records, in fact

Sir Launcelot

Launcelot or Lancelot du lac (“of the Lake”) is one of the Knights of the Round Table in Arthurian legends. He is always represented as the model of chivalry, bravery and fidelity although he was the lover of Guinevere, King Arthur’s wife.


[14/11] there is, however

glad Creator

Elsewhere Lewis used the same phrase, in quotation marks, on two occasions with reference to the poet Edmund Spenser (1552-1599) and perhaps quoting from him (Spenser’s Images of Life [1967], last paragraph; “Neoplatonism in the Poetry of Spenser” [1961], in Studies in Medieval and Renaissance Literature [1966], p. 162). The phrase is also quoted by George Macdonald in a passage quoted in turn by Lewis in his Macdonald Anthology (1946), nr. 215. The precise origin remains uncertain. – [...?]


Bacchus, Venus, Ceres

Ancient Roman god and goddesses of Wine, Love and Corn (“cereals”) respectively.


[14/14] now if there is such a God

The Hebrews ... headed off from the worship of Nature-gods

e.g. when Moses destroyed the golden calf which the people had asked Aaron to make for them to worship, as recounted in Exodus 32. God tells Moses on Mount Sinai that the people

have turned aside quickly out of the way which I commanded them: they have made them a molten calf, and have worshipped it ... Now let me alone, that my wrath may wax hot against them, and that I may consume them: and I will make of thee a great nation.

Moses succeeds in assuaging God’s anger but when he goes down and sees the calf and the people dancing and singing before it, his own anger “waxes hot”

And he took the calf which they had made, and burnt it in the fire, and ground it to powder, and strawed it upon the water, and made the children of Israel drink of it.


[14/15] The mention of that nation

one man from the whole earth (Abraham) is picked out

cf. Genesis 12:1-3.


some die in the desert, some remain behind in Babylon

The ancient Hebrews having left Egypt after more than four centuries (Exodus 12:31-42), they struggled to survive forty years of life in the desert before they reached the Promised Land. Babylonia is where the Hebrews lived in captivity for several decades in the mid-6th century BC. When the new Persian king Cyrus allowed them to go home in 537 BC, part of the people preferred to stay there.


a Jewish girl at her prayers.

i.e. Mary at the moment of the Annunciation; cf. Luke 1:28.



Of all the stars, perhaps very few … have planets

This suspicion seems to have become definitively obsolete in 1992, when the first “exoplanet” was discovered. By April 2018, a total of 3,767 exoplanets had been scientifically confirmed to exist, with thousands more detections awaiting confirmation. For the latest developments see www.exoplanet.eu.


[14/17] at this point we come

the argument of Butler’s famous Analogy

i.e. The Analogy of Religion, Natural and Revealed, to the Constitution and Course of Nature (1736) by the Anglican theologian and bishop Joseph Butler (1692-1752). Butler argues that the problems posed by “natural” religion are as hard to solve as those posed by “revealed” religion, but hardly succeeds in making a positive case for revealed religion.


[14/18] for when we look

Abraham is told that “in his seed” [etc.]

Genesis 22:18.

And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice.


“man of sorrows”

Isaiah 53:3.

He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.


[14/20] at this point it may

the worship of Dionysus

The ancient Greek god of wine, known to the Romans as Bacchus.


Life-force worship

See note to [11/4] the worship of the life-force.



“Development” and its cognate words in other languages (e.g. German Entwicklung, Dutch ontwikkeling) were sometimes used as a synonym for “evolution” in the 19th and early 20th centuries.


“Heroes,” “Supermen”

Lewis is probably alluding to Thomas Carlyle’s Heroes and Hero Worship (1841) and to Friedrich Nietzsche’s concept of the Übermensch (“Superman”) presented in Also sprach Zarathustra (1883; Thus Spake Zarathustra). The term “Superman” was introduced in the English language by G. B. Shaw in his play Man and Superman (1903) along with the idea of a Life-force.


“the same all the way up”

A variant of the phrase in humorous accounts of primitive views of the universe, in which a flat Earth is thought to be resting on a huge elephant, or turtle. When asked what the elephant or turtle is standing on, the holder of this view is said to answer, “It’s elephants/turtles all the way down!” Cf. Wikipedia on “Turtles all the way down”.


Nature is being lit up by a light from beyond Nature

cf. the Charles Williams quotation serving as this chapter’s epitaph, above. Lewis expressed a similar idea as a matter of personal experience in his autobiography, Surprised by Joy (1955), chapter 11, describing his first reading of George Macdonald, Phantastes:

Up till now each visitation of Joy had left the common world momentarily a desert ... But now I saw the bright shadow coming out of the book into the real world and resting there, transforming all common things and yet itself unchanged.


[14/21] throughout this doctrine

“the whole creation” is in travail

Paul’s epistle to the Romans 8:22.

For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now.


[14/22] in the first place

“without form and void”

Genesis 1:2.

And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep.


the widespread Naturalism ... as this error is corrected

Cf. Lewis’s chapters 2 through 5, above.


Maginot Line

A line of fortifications built by France in the 1930s to defend its border with Germany, called after the French minister of war at the time when the construction work began, André Maginot. The image is either unhappily or impishly chosen since the Maginot Line proved ineffective when Germany invaded France in 1940.


[14/23] THE SIN, BOTH OF

a deeper happiness and a fuller splend

In using the phrase “a fuller splendour” Lewis must have been aware of borrowing it from the Idealist philosopher Francis H. Bradley, whose Principles of Logic (1883) he read as a student of philosophy, probably in early 1922. Lewis also referred to the passage in question in The Pilgrim’s Regress, VII/9.


[14/24] another question that arises

Jack the Giant-Killer

An English fairy-tale about a Cornish farmer’s son slaying several giants, set in the days of King Arthur. The first printed version appeared in the early 18th century. Jack is a strong lad, but it is usually by his cleverness that he scores his successes against the giants.


those who have never fallen will thus bless Adam’s fall

Lewis is alluding to a passage in the Exsultet, an ancient Easter hymn from the Roman Catholic liturgy:

O certe necessarium Adae peccatum, quod Christi morte deletum est!
O felix culpa, quae talem ac tantum meruit habere Redemptorem!

O truly necessary sin of Adam, which the death of Christ has blotted out!
O happy fault, that merited such and so great a Redeemer!


[14/26] this doctrine of a universal

When spring comes it “leaves no corner of the land untouched”

William Wordsworth (1770-1850), The Prelude, Book VI, 359:

Among sequestered villages we walked
And found benevolence and blessedness
Spread like a fragrance everywhere, when spring
Hath left no corner of the land untouched ...


“Which of them was the greatest?”

Luke 9:46.

Then there arose a reasoning among them, which of them should be greatest.


Nothing is “merely a by-product” of anything else

The most memorable expression Lewis gave to this idea is in the long prose hymn at the end of his novel Perelandra, where the universe is celebrated as a “Great Dance”: