The Latinity of Latin

Though difficult at times, I’m enjoying C.S. Lewis’ Miracles immensely. It’s his most philosophical work, and his brilliant prose is on full display throughout. Miracles is not so much a defense of miracles as it is a beautifully written defense of God and the supernatural. I hope you enjoy this passage as much as I do. I will surely post more quotations from this work in the near future. As a preliminary note, Lewis refers to Nature not as colloquially understood (trees, deer, bunnies), but as Nature as the whole system of the universe.

God need not create this Nature. He might have created others. But granted this Nature, then doubtless no smallest part of her is there except because it expresses the character He chose to give her. It would be a miserable error to suppose that the dimensions of space and time, the death and rebirth of vegetation, the unity in multiplicity of organisms, the union in opposition of sexes, and the colour of each particular apple in Herefordshire this autumn, were merely a collection of useful devices forcibly welded together. They are all the very idiom, almost the facial expression, the smell or taste, of an individual thing. The quality of Nature is present in them all just as the Latinity of Latin is present in every inflection… 

I spoke just now about the Latinity of Latin. It is more evident to us than it can have been to the Romans. The Englishness of English is audible only to those who know some other language as well. In the same way and for the same reason, only the Supernaturalists really see Nature. You must go a little away from her, and then turn round, and look back. Then at last the true landscape will become visible. You must have tasted, however briefly, the pure water from beyond the world before you can be distinctly conscious of the hot, salty tang of Nature’s current. To treat her as God, or as Everything, is to lose the whole pith and pleasure of her. Come out, look back, and then you will see this astonishing cataract of bears, babies, and bananas: this immoderate deluge of atoms, orchids, oranges, cancers, canaries, fleas, gases, tornadoes, and toads. How could you ever have thought that it was merely a stage-set for the moral drama of men and women? She is herself. Offer her neither worship nor contempt. Meet her and know her. If we are all immortal, and if she is doomed (as the scientists tell us) to run down and die, we shall miss this half-shy and half-flamboyant creature, this ogress, this hoyden, this incorrigible fairy, this dumb witch. But the theologians tell us that she, like ourselves, is to be redeemed. The ‘vanity’ to which she was subjected was her disease, not her essence. She will be cured in character: not tamed (Heaven forbid) nor sterilised. We shall be able to recognise our old enemy, friend, playfellow, and foster-mother, so perfected as to be not less, but more, herself. And that will be a merry meeting.

-C.S. Lewis in Miracles (1947/1960), 103-105

One thought on “The Latinity of Latin

  1. I haven't read this one yet. But I'm a huge fan of how C.S. Lewis thinks. I like his brain. I might just give it a nickname and refer to it from now on. Maybe brainy like the smurf; or in the tradition of PeeWee's playhouse.It's a shame that the world has embraced Nature as an idol. They can't see the true artist behind her and the true God worth believing in. They choose to personify an aspect of the creation and misrepresent the Creator who created it. May we all learn to see more of the creativity of the Creator. I suppose it follows Lewis' analogy to say that if we take a chance and walk away from our current position a little in faith, we may see Him better behind it all.

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