by Andrea Elizabeth

Our next book club reading is C.S. Lewis’ Till We Have Faces. I read it almost 10 years ago, and am now listening to it in the car. We just came to Chapter 5, which is the first part I remember. It is where the priest explains the sacrifice Ungit demands. It is Penal Substitution. Here’s the last part quoted from here,

“The contradictions of the religion of Glome make it nonsensical.  How can a shadow be an animal which is also a goddess who is also a god?  How can loving be eating?  How can the Accursed be both wicked and perfect, a victim and married to the god?  “It can’t be both” (49-50).

The Priest’s response is a classic defense of the validity of religious mystery against the critique of human rationality and deserves to be quoted at length.


Greek wisdom” cannot understand “holy things.  They demand to

see such things clearly, as if the gods were no more than letters

written in a book. … they dazzle our eyes and flow in and out of

one another like eddies on a river, and nothing that is said clearly

can be said truly about them.  Holy places are dark places.  It is

life and strength, not knowledge and words, that we get in them.

Holy wisdom is not clear and thin like water, but thick and dark

like blood.  Why should the Accursed not be both the best and the

worst? (50).”

It is the idea that for us to become pure and perfect, Christ had to become wicked, both in an imputed, not natural, way. But he does not stay wicked, not in the usual tellings, but he seems to stay both here. In the usual tellings he takes the punishment for being wicked, and gets rid of it, I suppose also in a declared way.

In the Orthodox Chistus Victor model, Christ makes sin powerless by not letting it hold sway over him. I’ll admit it is hard to see how 2 Cor. 5:21 fits in with this, but Romans 6:6 seems a bit more nuanced, “knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin.” It’s as if he drew all sin into his body, and that his death ran it through a filter, as it were. The dirt and corruption were cleansed from his flesh which was renewed in his resurrection. The way Lewis describes the temple and the beast with such gore reminds me of Catholic “Eucharistic miracles” where the wine and bread are turned into actual lumps of flesh floating in blood. Orthodox Eucharistic “sightings” are of light emanating from the gifts, which start out as thin as wine and airy as risen flour and water, and give off the even thinner energy of light.