Friday, October 07, 2011
Notably, all but one of the books Lewis mentions are Christian. The one exception, the one permanent debt he records to a pre-Christian book, is Virgil's Aeneid, the epic poem in which the Trojan Aeneas, lacerated by war and Juno's wrath, travels to Italy under divine summons and lays the foundation of Rome. Long before Lewis became a Christian, the Aeneid acted upon him almost as a Christian epic; long after he became a Christian, the Aeneid remained central to his understanding of vocation. Lewis's debt to the Aeneid, already evident from his discussion of the epic in A Preface to Paradise Lost, is now more clear than ever, thanks to the publication this spring by Yale University Press of Lewis's "lost" Aeneid translation, skillfully reconstructed by classicist A. T. Reyes.I think this is something vitally important to remember in an age where we seek to "Christianify" everything. We take grunge rock, throw in "Christian" lyrics and voila'. We take Hummels, print scripture on them and suddenly they are sanctified.
"I've just re-read the Aeneid again," he told Dorothy L. Sayers, when she was in the throes of translating Dante. "The effect is one of the immense costliness of a vocation combined with a complete conviction that it is worth it," not only because of the harrowing ordeals Virgil depicts, but also because he wrote under duress, at a time of political violence, employing subjects and forms not entirely of his own choosing. "It is the nature of vocation," Lewis wrote, "to appear to men in the double character of a duty and a desire, and Virgil does justice to both."
Perhaps poetry would have more influence in our culture if it had this double character, which translation—inevitably an act of obedience as well as creative freedom—still retains. Lewis's unfinished Aeneid, however it may fare with critics, establishes beyond doubt his vocation as a translator to the modern world of its own forgotten traditions. Lewis understood the poetry of vocation, even if it was not his vocation to be a poet. That Virgil, erstwhile prophet of Christ, should speak again though Lewis, preeminent apostle to post-Christians, seems a fitting tribute.
God can use even the uninitiated, and often does. God speaks to us as He sees fit, not as we think He ought. We are sanctified, and anything we do can be sanctified if we bring our sanctified selves to it.