The alleged conflict between divine sovereignty, providence, foreknowledge, and human freedom is but one of a few of those classic ‘problems’ with theism which will not cease to be discussed so long as there are theists to discuss them. As an apologist, it is no surprise that Lewis partook in the discussion with a characteristically refreshing and original take. Post-reformation, this discussion among evangelical circles has been dominated by Calvinists and Armenians, but those left unsatisfied with either camp have explored other options. As of late, those who are philosophically inclined have turned to the little discussed Jesuit counter-reformer, Luis De Molina. Rather than heavily emphasizing divine sovereignty, per Calvinism, or conversely human freedom, per Arminianism, Molina attempted to reconcile both the sovereignty of God and the libertarian freedom he has endowed his creatures with without compromising either. Lewis was not aware of Molinism, and as such was not a conscious Molinist, yet he shared Molina’s general aim of the reconciliation and preservation of two seemingly paradoxical concepts. Indeed, Lewis’ thought as expressed in The Chronicles of Narnia, Perelandra, and his non-fiction work is, at the very least, consistent with Molinism.
In the introduction to his translation of part four of Molina’s Concordia, On Divine Foreknowledge, Alfred Freddoso rightly notes that at the root of the alleged paradox of sovereignty, foreknowledge, and freedom is the doctrine of divine providence, which “involves the thesis that God, the divine artisan, freely and knowingly plans, orders, and provides for all the effects that constitute His artifact, the created universe with its entire history, and executes His chosen plan by playing an active causal role sufficient to ensure its exact realization” (Freddoso 3). With Molina’s understanding of providence in view, it becomes clear that the doctrine of foreknowledge “derives its lofty theological status from its intimate connection with the absolutely central doctrine that God is perfectly provident” (Freddoso 2). That is to say, it “is because He is perfectly provident that God has comprehensive knowledge of what will occur in the created order” (Freddoso 4). As of yet, only two logical ‘moments’ of God’s omniscience have been discussed: his so-called natural knowledge of all necessary truths and possible worlds which God might create, and his free knowledge of every true proposition about the world which he has created. Molina shared these doctrines of foreknowledge and providence with his catholic brethren, but he differed in his notion of the logical priority of a third logical moment of God’s omniscience, counterfactual knowledge, relative to God’s creative decree. For the Catholic theologians, this knowledge is logically posterior to his creative decree and for Molinists said knowledge is logically prior to the creative decree (Craig 122). Thus, for Molina, this counterfactual knowledge is sandwiched between his natural and free knowledge, appropriately termed middle knowledge:
Therefore, before any free determination of His will, by virtue of the depth of His natural knowledge…He discerns what the free choice of any creature would do by its own innate freedom, given the hypothesis that He should create it in this or that order of things with these or those circumstances or aids. (Molina 119)
As such, Molina contended that placing God’s counterfactual knowledge prior to the creative decree preserves human freedom in such a manner that is not possible if God’s counterfactual knowledge is posterior to the creative decree. William Lane Craig, in Divine Foreknowledge: Four Views demonstrates this principle well:
For example, there is a possible world in which Peter affirms Christ in precisely the same circumstances in which he in fact denied him. But given the counterfactual truth that if Peter were in precisely those circumstances he would freely deny Christ, then the possible world in which Peter freely affirms Christ in those circumstances is not feasible for God. God could make Peter affirm Christ in those circumstances, but then his confession would not be free. (Craig 123)
By contrast, the catholic theologian is unable to discern which possible worlds within God’s natural knowledge are feasible for him to create, and is left with the unwanted supposition that God could have created any possible world, including the best possible world which God did not create. Merely asserting that God has complete counterfactual knowledge is insufficient to establish Molinism, one must place said knowledge prior to the divine creative decree in between his natural and free knowledge in order to be a proper Molinist. In sum, there are three essential tenets one must assent to if he is to subscribe to Molinism: the libertarian free will of human beings, a robust doctrine of divine providence (and thus exhaustive foreknowledge), and the placement of God’s counterfactual knowledge logically prior to his creative decree. A close reading of Lewis reveals that he subscribed to each of these three tenets.
In a collection of his essays on theology and ethics, God in the Dock, it is evident that Lewis affirms human freedom along with a strong doctrine of divine providence. The Trouble with ‘X’ is largely a pastoral essay, but here Lewis lets his theological principles guide his ministry. When asked why God won’t simply remove the difficulty in ‘difficult people,’ Lewis proposes that “God has made it a rule for Himself that He won’t alter people’s character by force. He can and will alter them – but only if the people will let Him” (Lewis 153). Further, Lewis argues that God “would rather have a world of free beings, with all its risks, than a world of people who did right like machines because they couldn’t do anything else” (Lewis 153). Thus, Lewis affirms human freedom on the basis of moral responsibility and the superiority of a world full of free creatures over-against a world of “machines.”
In an interesting essay titled The Laws of Nature, Lewis attempts to reconcile human freedom with the immutable physical laws of nature. After coming to the conclusion that “in the whole history of the universe the laws of Nature have never produced a single event,” Lewis notes that God or something like God is necessary for anything to happen at all: “any contrast between His acts and the laws of Nature is out of the question…The laws are an empty frame; it is He who fills that frame – not now and then on specially ‘providential’ occasions, but at every moment” (Lewis 79). For Lewis, then, every occasion is a ‘specially providential occasion,’ for God sustains the world in being.
Lastly, in The Problem of Pain, when discussing the need for humans to endure divinely ordained trials or tests of faith if God, through his counterfactual knowledge knows what would result without needing the actual event to take place, Lewis shows that such trials exist more for the sake of the test-subject than the test-giver. Taking God’s command to Abraham that he sacrifice Isaag as a point of departure, Lewis explains, “whatever God knew, Abraham at any rate did not know that his obedience would endure such a command until the event taught him: and the obedience which he did not know that he would choose, he cannot be said to have chosen” (Lewis 89). Further, Lewis exposes the false assumption underlying such an objection: “To say that God ‘need not have tried the experiment’ is to say that because God knows, the thing known by God need not to exist” (Lewis 90). It is important to note that in this instance Lewis presupposes that the existence of an event in the actual world is not a necessary condition of God knowing said event. As such, God’s knowledge of what Abraham would do is logically prior to Abraham’s actually doing so. A more explicit expression of the properly ordered logical priority can be found in The Laws of Nature, where Lewis discusses God taking prayers into account before ordaining which events are to take place: “And He, from His vantage point of Time, can, if He pleases, take all prayers into account in ordaining that vast complex event which is the history of the universe” (Lewis 79). Thus, the last of the three essential tenets of Molinism have been distinctly expressed in Lewis’ non-fiction work.
Lewis presupposes creaturely freedom throughout his fictional work, but his comments in Perelandra on what exactly freedom entails are interesting and well worth discussing. These comments appear during Ransom’s internal struggle with himself concerning his reluctant acceptance of the daunting task of killing the Un-Man (Perelandra’s Satan archetype) that Maleldil (God) has put before him. He begins this struggle by questioning the Maleldil’s choice of sending Ransom for this mission and not someone or something else: “Did Maleldil want to lose worlds? What was the sense of so arranging things that anything really important should finally and absolutely depend of such a man of straw as himself?” (Lewis 270). Taking this concept further, Ransom then contemplates why something of such importance would depend on something so fleeting as free will at all: “Thus, and not otherwise, the world was made. Either something or nothing must depend on individual choices. And if something, who could set bounds to it?” (Lewis 270). This false dichotomy sets up his climactic conclusion a few passages later, after a brief aside on the futility of contemplating “what would have happened”:
In vain did his mind hark back, time after time, to the Book of Genesis, asking, ‘What would have happened?’…Almost he felt that the words ‘what would have happened’ were meaningless – mere invitations to wander in what the Lady would have called an ‘alongside world’ which had no reality. Only the actual was real: and every actual situation was new. (Lewis 273)
Ransom’s assertion that the words ‘what would have happened’ are almost “meaningless” must not be misinterpreted. Ransom is not contending that subjunctive conditionals are literally meaningless – Lewis is already committed to the contrary – but rather that it is futile for anyone other than an omniscient being to contemplate them. “Thus, and not otherwise” did Maleldil create the world; to utter the words ‘what would have happened’ is also to question the wisdom of Maleldil. After embracing the actual world, Ransom returns to his former topic of freedom with a new and confident approach: “The whole distinction between things accidental and things designed, like the distinction between myth and fact, was purely terrestrial” (Lewis 275). The Narrator expounds Ransom’s paradox:
You might say, if you liked, that the power of choice had been simply set aside and an inflexible destiny substituted for it. On the other hand, you might say that he had been delivered from the rhetoric of his passions and had emerged into unassailable freedom. Ransom could not, for the life of him, see any difference between these two statements. Predestination and freedom were apparently identical. (Lewis 276-277)
Rather than approaching the freedom-predestination problem from a thesis-antithesis perspective in order to make an attempt at a compromise or victory, Lewis suggests that there is no argument to be had, that both concepts are reconcilable, that both concepts are about the same thing and so closely intertwined that to distinguish between the two is a moot point. The following sentence, however, suggests that Lewis is not literally denying the difference between predestination and human freedom: “He could not longer see any meaning in the arguments he had heard on this subject” (Lewis 277). Lewis is not critical of predestination or freedom themselves, but of the unwarranted polarization of competing theological circles. Again, Lewis is aiming for a synthesis, not a deconstructive compromise or subordination of one of the two. Perelandra, then, contains a rather robust view of creaturely freedom, completely consistent with Maleldil’s ordination and foreknowledge of the world. The fact of said freedom and ordination are even said to be logically prior to the creation of the world:
Before his Mother had borne him, before his ancestors had been called Ransoms, before ransom had been the name for a payment that delivers, before the world was made, all these things so stood together in eternity that the very significance of the pattern at this point lay in their coming together just in this fashion. (Lewis 275)
Consequently, in Perelandra Lewis affirms creaturely freedom, a robust doctrine of divine providence, exhaustive foreknowledge, and proper logical priority of divine counterfactual knowledge, all of which are indicative of Molinism.
Clearly, then, Lewis’ fiction and non-fiction share a common set of theological assumptions, which the Molinist can easily read and affirm without any scruple. This has been established without reference to The Chronicles of Narnia, however. Extracting Lewis’ theological principles from Narnia is difficult, and the exegete ought to be particularly wary of committing eisegesis. The key person of interest, Aslan, is particularly tricky as he is undefined yet explicitly analogous to Jesus Christ in some passages. Moreover, just as Jesus is God, so also Aslan seems to be God. In The Magician’s Nephew, Aslan has counterfactual knowledge, which Lewis typically reserves for God alone: when Digory asks ‘what would have happened’ if he so chose to eat the silver apple and heal his mother with it, Aslan answers affirmatively, “Understand, then, that it would have healed her, but not to your joy or hers. The day would have come when both you and she would have looked back and said it would have been better to die in that illness” (Lewis 191, emphasis added). In this context, it is unclear whether Aslan is expressing middle knowledge or logically posterior counterfactual knowledge, but nevertheless it is the same sort of counterfactual that Ransom, as a finite being, sees as “almost meaningless.” Likewise, in Prince Caspian Lucy asks Aslan for access to the truth of a counterfactual question, to which Aslan coolly responds, “To know what would have happened, child? No. Nobody is ever told that” (Lewis 153). As such, Aslan is not subject to Lewis’ futility objection and is instead placed in the same position of epistemic authority as Maleldil in Perelandra and the God of Abraham in The Problem of Pain.
Yet, there is a lingering uncertainty concerning what exactly Aslan is and how the reader is to interpret his character. In his essay C.S. Lewis and Christological Prefigurement, P.H. Brazier bluntly asks, “how much is Aslan an accurate intimation or echo of the divine truth of Jesus Christ crucified and resurrected for our redemption?” but carefully frames his question with the hesitant, non-committal qualifying terms “intimation” and “echo” (Brazier 756). While it is hard to say what Aslan exactly is, some are willing to confidently assert was Aslan is not. In The Chronicles of Narnia and Philosophy, James F. Sennett wrote an essay titled Worthy of a Better God: Religious Diversity and Salvation in The Chronicles of Narnia, where he boldly suggests, “the Narnian salvation story is not the Jesus story. There are intentional parallels, of course, in the story of Aslan’s death on the Stone Table…but they are by no means the same story” (Sennett 235). Later, Sennett more firmly asserts, “Aslan is not Jesus; Narnia is not Christendom” (Sennett 235). However, Sennett’s dismissive statements are far too broad in scope and require qualification. If Sennett means to say that Aslan is not a mere allegory of Christ, he is in agreement with Lewis himself. In a letter to a certain Mrs. Hook, Lewis wrote,
If Aslan represented the immaterial Deity he would be an allegorical figure. In reality however he is an invention giving an imaginary answer to the question, ‘What might Christ become like if there really were a world like Narnia and He chose to be incarnate and die and rise again in that world as He actually has done in ours?’ This is not allegory at all.
Sennett’s assertion that Aslan is not an allegorical Jesus holds true. However, one must remember that Jesus of Nazareth was a human and that Jesus Christ is God; Jesus is the incarnate λόγος of John 1. But the λόγος only becomes Jesus of Nazareth after “all things came into being through Him,” after he “became flesh” and by doing so took on an additional human nature. In a sense, then, Aslan is not Jesus Christ, but Aslan is Christ ὁ λόγος, albeit with an additional lion-nature. Brazier confirms: “Aslan is not meant to be a separate incarnation from Jesus Christ…they are rather one and the same. They differ only in form –the form of a man or the form of a lion, – in each case, a form appropriate to its created environment” (Brazier 765).
But if not an allegory, what is the Narnian story? Per Brazier, “Lewis decried the label ‘allegory’, concentrating on his term ‘supposal – a ‘what if’ supposition” (Brazier 764). That is to say, what if the λόγος decided to create Narnia, instead of the actual world? Recall the notion of God’s natural knowledge of all possible worlds – both the actual world and Narnia are present in there. Speaking on behalf of Lewis, Brazier asks, “What if Christ became incarnate in the flesh, the physical reality of another world…not another world within our universe but an entirely different universe, another reality?” (Brazier 765).
The notion that Narnia is not an allegorical world but rather a ‘fictional-actual world,’ coupled with the notion that Aslan is the incarnation of the eternal λόγος and not merely a referential character to Jesus of Nazareth, is pertinent to determining at which logical moment Lewis places God’s counterfactual knowledge. When writing The Chronicles of Narnia, Lewis must ask himself, “If God created that world, Narnia, and not our own, what would Aslan do?” Notice that this question is impossible to ask if God’s counterfactual knowledge is posterior to creation, for Lewis’ counterfactual question is not contrary to the fact of this world, but of Narnia. Therefore, the very concept of the eternal λόγος creating Narnia and entering it as Aslan, as opposed to creating Earth and entering as Jesus of Nazareth, demonstrates Lewis’ assumption that God has counterfactual knowledge logically prior to his creative decree – middle knowledge.
Surprisingly, the strongest evidence for Lewis’ subscription to middle knowledge comes from his meta-Narnian ‘supposal’, rather than one of his many theological treatises. This is critical because it reveals that Lewis merely presupposes that God works this way, as opposed to taking a definite theological stance within one of many ‘-isms.’ Ergo, it would be awkward and inappropriate to label Lewis a Molinist, although the essential tenets of creaturely libertarian free will, a robust doctrine of divine providence, exhaustive foreknowledge, and middle knowledge are all well established within Lewis’ thought. As such, Molinism can make easy sense of Lewis, while the other –isms will have to ask, “What would Aslan do?”
Brazier, P. H. “C. S. Lewis & Christological Prefigurement.” The Heythrop Journal 48.5 (2007): 742-75. Web. 4 May 2015.
Craig, William L. “The Middle Knowledge View.” Divine Foreknowledge: Four Views. Ed. James K. Beilby and Paul R. Eddy. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2001. Print.
Lewis, C. S. God in the Dock: Essays on Theology. Ed. Walter Hooper. Grand Rapids: Erdmans, 1970. Print.
Lewis, C. S. The Magician’s Nephew. Ed. Pauline Baynes. New York: HarperCollins, 1994. Print.
Lewis, C. S. “Perelandra.” The Space Trilogy. New York, NY: HarperCollins, 2013. Print.
Lewis, C. S. Prince Caspian: The Return to Narnia. Ed. Pauline Baynes. New York, NY: HarperCollins, 1994. Print.
Lewis, C. S. The Problem of Pain. New York, NY: MacMillan, 1948. Print.
Molina, Luis De, and Alfred J. Freddoso. On Divine Foreknowledge: Part IV of the Concordia. Ed. Alfred J. Freddoso. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1988. Print.
Sennett, James. “Worthy of a Better God: Religious Diversity and Salvation in The Chronicles of Narnia.” The Chronicles of Narnia and Philosophy: The Lion, the Witch, and the Worldview. Ed. Gregory Bassham and Jerry L. Walls. Chicago: Open Court, 2005. Print.