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Abstract

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. I. INTRODUCTION
  4. II. WHAT DID LEWIS SAY?
  5. III. THE SCRIPTURAL & THEOLOGICAL TRADITION
  6. IV. ‘UNBALANCED LIAR’, ‘POSSESSED’, OR ‘THE GOD OF ISRAEL’: THE JOHANNINE TRILEMMA
  7. V. C.S. LEWIS: TRANSPOSED REALITY OF DIVINE SONSHIP
  8. VI. THE STRUCTURE OF LEWIS'S TRILEMIC ARGUMENT
  9. VII. PROOF … OR A QUESTION, A HUMAN DILEMMA?
  10. VIII. AUT DEUS AUT MALUS HOMO
  11. IX. CONCLUSION

The proposition that Jesus was ‘Bad, Mad or God’ is central to C.S. Lewis's popular apologetics. It is fêted by American Evangelicals, cautiously endorsed by Roman Catholics and Protestants, but often scorned by philosophers of religion. Most, mistakenly, regard Lewis's trilemma as unique. This paper examines the roots of this proposition in a two thousand year old theological and philosophical tradition (that is, aut Deus aut malus homo), grounded in the Johannine trilemma (‘unbalanced liar’, or ‘demonically possessed’, or ‘the God of Israel come amongst his people’). Jesus can only be understood in the context of the Jewish religious categories he was born into; therefore, for Lewis, Jesus is who he reveals himself to be. Jesus' self-understanding reflects his identity, his triune salvific role; this is for Lewis, the transposed reality of divine Sonship. Reason and logic are paramount here, reflected in the structure of Lewis's argument. Lewis's trilemma is not so much a proof of God's existence, but a question, a dilemma, where each and every person must come to a decision. For all its perceived faults, its simplistic language, Lewis's trilemma still is a very successful piece of Christian apologetic, grounded in a serious philosophical and theological tradition.


I. INTRODUCTION

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. I. INTRODUCTION
  4. II. WHAT DID LEWIS SAY?
  5. III. THE SCRIPTURAL & THEOLOGICAL TRADITION
  6. IV. ‘UNBALANCED LIAR’, ‘POSSESSED’, OR ‘THE GOD OF ISRAEL’: THE JOHANNINE TRILEMMA
  7. V. C.S. LEWIS: TRANSPOSED REALITY OF DIVINE SONSHIP
  8. VI. THE STRUCTURE OF LEWIS'S TRILEMIC ARGUMENT
  9. VII. PROOF … OR A QUESTION, A HUMAN DILEMMA?
  10. VIII. AUT DEUS AUT MALUS HOMO
  11. IX. CONCLUSION

What are we to say about Jesus of Nazareth the carpenter, itinerant preacher and enigmatic healer, who lived two millennia ago? Whatever we decide it cannot simply be a matter of opinion. Whatever viewpoint or belief system we come from this man will not settle into the background as just another ordinary human being. His identity, his status, the very nature of his being, won't go away and cannot be settled with anything resembling absolute certainty. This identity and status has been at the heart of questions of Christology and the Church's witness for these two millennia. Is his identity humanly or divinely conferred, and what exactly is he – ontologically? The proposition that Jesus was ‘Bad, Mad or God’ is central to C.S. Lewis's popular apologetics. It is fêted by American Evangelicals, cautiously considered by Roman Catholics and Anglicans, warily endorsed by Presbyterians and Protestants, and scorned by most philosophers of religion.1 Whether endorsed or repudiated, most, mistakenly, regard Lewis's proposition as unique. For example, the American Christian philosopher Stephen T. Davis, notes, ‘I have been unable to locate any published uses of the argument prior to the twentieth century.’2 This paper examines the roots of Lewis's proposition in a two thousand year old tradition of philosophical theology where Jesus is aut Deus aut malus homo. The creed states that Jesus was equally God and equally man, he is the Christ, the anointed one, the Messiah, and is Son of God and Son of Man. This brings in doctrinal questions about the Trinity, and about salvation. Since the Age of Reason and the Enlightenment the churches have been on the defensive. It may be argued that the consensus of opinion – often in academia, and amongst ‘modern’ and ‘liberal’ churchmen and theologians – is that Jesus was not divine, that he was an ordinary man. Lewis tackles the sceptics head-on, turning their hermeneutic of suspicion against them. In defending Jesus' divinity Lewis used reason and logic: he sought to prove the case for Jesus as God incarnate. However, Lewis's defence is focused on a very specialized argument: ‘What or who is this Jesus of Nazareth if he was not God incarnate?’, ‘What can we say about this man if he was not divine?’ These two questions were encapsulated in a Latin proposition which can be traced back to the Medieval church, and earlier to the Patristic era: aut Deus aut malus homo– either God, or a bad man. If Jesus was not God incarnate then in the light of his sayings and actions what can we conclude about his character and person? If Jesus was not divine and was merely human then we must conclude that he was not a good person, that he was bad, wicked, or perhaps deluded. He is either God, or a bad man.

II. WHAT DID LEWIS SAY?

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. I. INTRODUCTION
  4. II. WHAT DID LEWIS SAY?
  5. III. THE SCRIPTURAL & THEOLOGICAL TRADITION
  6. IV. ‘UNBALANCED LIAR’, ‘POSSESSED’, OR ‘THE GOD OF ISRAEL’: THE JOHANNINE TRILEMMA
  7. V. C.S. LEWIS: TRANSPOSED REALITY OF DIVINE SONSHIP
  8. VI. THE STRUCTURE OF LEWIS'S TRILEMIC ARGUMENT
  9. VII. PROOF … OR A QUESTION, A HUMAN DILEMMA?
  10. VIII. AUT DEUS AUT MALUS HOMO
  11. IX. CONCLUSION

As a proposition Aut Deus aut malus homo preoccupied Lewis's developing understanding of Jesus and therefore his writings, and is crucial to his doctrine of revelation. Aut Deus aut malus homo is a form of philosophical theology which issues from his reading and studying in the 1930s, following on from his conversion. The self-acknowledged source is G.K. Chesterton's The Everlasting Man.3Aut Deus aut malus homo is central to Lewis's understanding of the relationship between faith and reason, grounded in his reading of Thomism. In his popular apologetics it becomes the BMG (or MBG) argument – that Jesus was ‘Bad, Mad or God’, often referred to as the Lewis trilemma. This complicates the proposition when the essence of the argument is the element of choice: either-or. There are many examples of this proposition in Lewis's letters and recorded interviews, and his popular apologetics, through to systematic explorations in his major works of philosophical theology. His writings and correspondence from the 1930s exhibit an implicit understanding of the dialectical nature of Christ's ontology (that is, what is he? – man, or God incarnate). For example, ‘Aut Deus aut malus angelus is as true as the old aut Deus aut malus homo.’4 Lewis addresses the problem of reading the character of Jesus:

Now the truth is, I think, that the sweetly-attractive-human-Jesus is a product of 19th century scepticism, produced by people who were ceasing to believe in his divinity but wanted to keep as much of Christianity as they could. It is not what an unbeliever coming to the records with an open mind will find there … we are simply not invited to pass any moral judgement on him … He is going to do whatever judging there is: it is we who are being judged, sometimes tenderly, sometimes with stunning severity … The first real work of the Gospels on a fresh reader is, and ought to be, to raise very acutely the question, ‘Who-or-What is This?’ For there is a good deal in the character which, unless he really is what he says he is – is not lovable or even tolerable.5

The attempt to de-Christianize Jesus, to present him as an ordinary human being, is at the heart of the dialectic. In The Problem of Pain Lewis acknowledges the dialectic, the paradox – Jesus is, but what he asserts appears impossible–

The claim is so shocking – a paradox, and even a horror, which we may easily be lulled into taking too lightly – that only two views of this man are possible. Either he was a raving lunatic of an unusually abominable type, or else he was, and is, precisely what he said. There is no middle way. If the records make the first hypothesis unacceptable, you must submit to the second … Christianity is not the conclusion of a philosophical debate on the origins of the universe: it is a catastrophic historical event following on the long spiritual preparation of humanity.6

What we have here is the either-or dialectic, a paradox. What appears impossible must be acknowledged because it is the only path that makes sense. In asserting aut Deus aut malus homo, the dialectic is between God incarnate and a human who is malus. If we are forced to accept his claims to divine status then the Christian story begins to make sense.

In the second series of the BBC Broadcast Talks, entitled ‘What Christians Believe’, Lewis again extends this proposition by considering the messianic divine claim to forgive sins, further, Jesus claims to have always existed and that he is coming to judge all at the end of the world. Lewis notes this is not a pantheistic Indian or Oceanic ‘god’, this is the God of the Jews, the God outside and beyond all other gods. Lewis comments, ‘And when you've grasped that, you will see that what this man said was, quite simply, the most shocking thing that has ever been uttered by human lips.7 We then have the essence of Lewis's BMG trilemma, an apologetic presentation of aut Deus aut malus homo, in the much quoted passage:

I'm trying here to prevent anyone from saying the really silly thing that people often say about him: ‘I'm ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don't accept his claim to be God.’ That's the one thing we mustn't say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said wouldn't be a great moral teacher. He'd either be a lunatic-on a level with the man who says he's a poached egg – or else he'd be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon; or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God. But don't let us come with any patronising nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He hasn't left that open to us. He didn't intend to.8

We can choose to reject Jesus; construct belief systems to explain away this man – possessed, insane, bad, muddled – but we cannot escape the either-or dialectic.

In a paper read to The Oxford Socratic Club, Lewis proposes this dialectic as proof of the veracity of the Christian Gospel, only this time, echoing his conversion, he approaches it from the progression of Idealism to Theism, then moving to examine the truth claims of the Gospel above and beyond all religions: ‘Once you accepted Theism you could not ignore the claims of Christ. And when you examined them it appeared to me that you could adopt no middle position. Either he was a lunatic, or God. And he was not a lunatic.’9 So again if one is faced with the claims of Jesus of Nazareth and if you choose to reject what he says and does then you have no option but to regard him as deluded at best or insane at worst. In stating that we cannot adopt a middle position Lewis is not saying that this is unfeasible, impossible. It is perfectly possible to do as many have done and reject Christ's claims to divinity, but, we cannot argue that our position has been thought through and argued out logically in a reasonable manner in the face of the evidence.

In an address in 1945 Lewis asserted that the question of Jesus Christ's status (human or divine) and the difficulties of the incarnation-resurrection were often the preoccupation of congregations:

When we come to the incarnation itself, I usually find that some form of the aut Deus aut malus homo can be used. The majority of them started with the idea of the ‘great human teacher’ who was deified by his superstitious followers. It must be pointed out how very improbable this is among Jews and how different to anything that happened with Plato, Confucius, Buddha, Mohammed. The Lord's own words and claims (of which many are quite ignorant) must be forced home.10

Lewis comments on the importance of accepting the veracity and authenticity of the biblical record, explaining how he as a professional literary critic knew the difference between historical writing and legend, and the non-existence of realistic prose fiction before the eighteenth century.11 Therefore Lewis focuses on the bipartite proposition that Jesus is Deus, or malus homo, which underpins the dilemma humanity is faced with in Christology and revelation.

Lewis does extend this understanding of aut Deus aut malus homo into the more familiar tripartite distinction we know from his apologetics in Miracles. He explores the difficulties underlying the proposition, for example, the historical questions: why should his followers, knowing full well the penalties under the Jewish law for what they were asserting, claim Christ's divinity, and why are these claims, encapsulated in the sayings and actions of Jesus, presented so unsystematically? In attempting to explain away the Gospel account Lewis notes how the range of alternatives has proliferated particularly in recent centuries (especially related to ‘modern’ and/or ‘liberal’ philosophies); however, none stand the test of time. Likewise attempts to ‘find’ the historical Jesus have failed.

The historical difficulty of giving for the life, sayings and influence of Jesus any explanation that is not harder than the Christian explanation is very great. The discrepancy between the depth and sanity and (let me add) shrewdness of his moral teaching and the rampant megalomania which must lie behind his theological teaching unless he is indeed God, has never been satisfactorily got over. Hence the non-Christian hypotheses succeed one another with the restless fertility of bewilderment. Today we are asked to regard all the theological elements as later accretions to the story of a ‘historical’ and merely human Jesus …12

Lewis is therefore focusing on the alternative –malus homo. In so doing he lays emphasis on the sanity and wisdom of Jesus' teaching. The ‘rampant megalomania’ which is betrayed by his actions and the statements about forgiveness cannot be explained away if we proclaim him as a mere mortal, yet laud his wisdom and apparent sanity.

Despite the popularity – and colourful simplistic language – of Lewis's apologetic trilemma (the BMG argument) in The Broadcast talks, the finest analysis of the proposition, aut Deus malus homo, is in a little known paper of philosophical theology from 1950 –‘What Are We to Make of Jesus Christ?’13 In essence the paper addresses critical issues: how are we to solve the historical problem set us by the recorded sayings and acts of this man? If, as it is, we accept the acknowledged depth and sanity of Jesus' moral teaching (as evidenced by the scriptural record), which even the anti-God detractors accept then how do we balance the wisdom, profundity and sanity of Jesus with the nature of his theological assertions – which Lewis asserts would normally be considered the utterances of an appalling megalomaniac with messianic pretensions. Lewis reiterates a central theme, the idea of a great moral teacher saying the things Jesus said is untenable – only God or someone suffering delusions would say such things.14 What is more, those around Jesus who knew him did not regard him as a moral teacher:

We may note in passing that he was never regarded as a mere moral teacher. He did not produce that effect on any of the people who actually met him. He produced mainly three effects – hatred – terror – adoration. There was no trace of people expressing mild approval.15

The only hypothesis, asserts Lewis, that covers the facts is that God has come down into the created universe, down into incarnation – and has risen, drawing humanity up.16

In terms of his analogical narratives, Lewis uses the tripartite structure of his trilemma in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, re-phrasing and re-situating, to illustrate.17 Lucy, an eight-year-old girl, one of four children, has visited Narnia – a world, in what can only be described as a parallel universe. Her brothers and sisters don't believe her, so they discuss her strange behaviour and beliefs with the professor they are staying with. They are surprised that the professor doesn't dismiss Lucy's claims immediately as a fantasy. The discussion incorporates the essentials of a trilemma, only in this case it is between truth, falsehood, and delusion. Because of the implications of what Lucy proposes in the existence of a parallel world (as incredulous as a human being claiming divinity), the question of ‘badness’ and ‘madness’ is raised. A lack of truthfulness implies that the person is ‘not good’. Edmund, Lucy's brother, has also been to Narnia but lies; he pretends the visit never happened. Therefore Professor Kirk asks which of the two is the most likely to be truthful. Peter and Susan have to concede that Lucy would be the honest one, not Edmund. Susan suggests that something might be wrong with Lucy – yet all agree that Lucy is sane, she shows no sign of what might be termed ‘madness’. Here we have the structure of argument:

‘Logic!’, said the Professor half to himself. ‘Why don't they teach logic at these schools? There are only three possibilities. Either your sister is telling lies, or she is mad, or she is telling the truth. You know she doesn't tell lies and it is obvious that she is not mad. For the moment then and unless any further evidence turns up, we must assume that she is telling the truth.’18

The professor is using a tripartite structure to his argument (Figure 1). Peter then raises an ontological argument; that is, he questions whether Lucy's world is real; he asserts that this parallel world should be self-evident to all people all the time (an echo of the scandal of particularity argument used since the Enlightenment against the incarnation). Peter therefore comments that, ‘If things are real, they're there all the time.’ Professor Kirk's answer is simple: ‘Are they?’ Susan then raises the question of a temporal paradox commenting that Lucy was gone for no time in our world but she claims she had been in Narnia for hours. The professor comments ‘That is the very thing that makes her story so likely to be true.’ An eight year old girl, uninhibited by questions of rationality, order and logic can make the leap of faith when Peter and Susan remain puzzled and doubting: ‘“But do you really mean, sir,” said Peter, “that there could be other worlds – all over the place, just round the corner – like that?”“Nothing is more probable,” said the Professor.’19 The question is then one of probability. Because of the lack of direct personal evidence and experience (i.e. Peter and Susan have not been to Narnia by the time of this conversation, remembering that most of the decisions we make in life are not primarily informed by direct one-to-one evidence and experience) then they must weigh up the options and decide on the grounds of probability. This is characterized by two dialectics: first, between credibility-incredibility; and second between belief-disbelief. If they disbelieve her claims, then they must contradict her credible personality, which would be an untruth; if they accept her claim to have visited another world, and they considered her an untrustworthy and discredited character, then this too would be a falsehood. The only option as she is honest and credible, and shows no sign of delusion or pretence, is to regard her story as true. Probability will often contradict our scepticism.

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Figure 1.  C.S. Lewis – The Lucy trilemma

Download figure to PowerPoint

In Mere Christianity, the revised and amplified edition of the three volumes of the BBC Home Service broadcast talks, the argument is more nuanced than the scripts presented a decade earlier. Lewis has added material to answer questions raised by the talks and to address theological and philosophical issues that had emerged in the intervening years.20 The additional material develops the question of sin – that is, Jesus' claim to forgive sins, all sins, which is the prerogative of God; therefore this is essentially, to use Lewis's term, preposterous. What is more Jesus is either forgiving in place of another to whom the offence has been committed, or the offence has not been made against him–

Asinine fatuity is the kindest description we should give of his conduct. Yet this is what Jesus did. He told people that their sins were forgiven, and never waited to consult all the other people whom their sins had undoubtedly injured. He unhesitatingly behaved as if he was the party chiefly concerned, the person chiefly offended in all offences. This makes sense only if he really was the God whose laws are broken and whose love is wounded in every sin … Christ says that he is ‘humble and meek’ and we believe him; not noticing that, if he were merely a man, humility and meekness are the very last characteristics we could attribute to some of his sayings.21

Therefore the ontological status of Jesus is not simply affirmed by the either-or dialectic but by what he said and how he related to humanity.

Lewis remains preoccupied with question of sin-sinlessness as the key to the ontological nature of this man Jesus of Nazareth. If Jesus is to be classified as an ordinary human them the detractors cannot persist in regarding him as wise, gentle and humble considering his relationship to sinners as the absolute forgiver: ‘For he denied all sin of himselfYet he said such things as, on any hypothesis but one, would be the arrogance of a paranoiac.’22 Lewis examines the ontology between Jesus and God which makes him the Christ in a late paper, written in 1960.23 Jesus demonstrated his Sonship through his actions and words – through authoritative and dogmatic actions – evidence that shows Jesus was not malus homo. Lewis explains that such statements cannot mean that Jesus stands to God ‘in the very same physical and temporal relation which exists between offspring and male parent in the animal world.’24 We must see such a statement as poetic:

The theologian will describe it as ‘analogical’, drawing our minds at once away from the subtle and sensitive exploitations of imagination and emotion with which poetry works to the clear-cut but clumsy analogies of the lecture-room. He will even explain in what respects the father-son relationship is not analogical to the reality, hoping by elimination to reach the respects in which it is. He may even supply other analogies of his own – the lamp and the light which flows from it, or the like.25

But this does not reduce the ontological reality between Jesus and God the Father to something metaphorical, characterized by humanely conferred status. Lewis continues, ‘The sentence “Jesus Christ is the Son of God” cannot be all got into the form “There is between Jesus and God an asymmetrical, social, harmonious relation involving homogeneity.”’26 This is because we are best at understanding the relationships within the Trinity if we continue to see human sonship and fatherhood as analogical themselves.27 Jesus is divine; the human analogy (the relationship between a father and son) is analogical but it does not deny the nature of being – that Jesus is the Son of God. Lewis asserts that the logic of aut Deus aut malus homo should convince us that this is so.

In the recorded and transcribed interview with Sherwood E. Wirt, undertaken a matter of months before Lewis's death the basis proposition from The Broadcast Talks, that Jesus was either ‘Bad, Mad, or God’, was stated to Lewis with the question, ‘Would you say that your view on the matter has changed since then?’ Lewis's answer was a straightforward, ‘I would say there is no substantial change.’28

III. THE SCRIPTURAL & THEOLOGICAL TRADITION

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. I. INTRODUCTION
  4. II. WHAT DID LEWIS SAY?
  5. III. THE SCRIPTURAL & THEOLOGICAL TRADITION
  6. IV. ‘UNBALANCED LIAR’, ‘POSSESSED’, OR ‘THE GOD OF ISRAEL’: THE JOHANNINE TRILEMMA
  7. V. C.S. LEWIS: TRANSPOSED REALITY OF DIVINE SONSHIP
  8. VI. THE STRUCTURE OF LEWIS'S TRILEMIC ARGUMENT
  9. VII. PROOF … OR A QUESTION, A HUMAN DILEMMA?
  10. VIII. AUT DEUS AUT MALUS HOMO
  11. IX. CONCLUSION

Biblical & Pre-Reformation

Lewis's proposition issues from a long theological tradition. Early in Jesus' ministry some of the Romans regarded him as eccentric but harmless. However, the Jewish religious authorities began to see him as a troublemaker, and then as a heretic; many of the ordinary Jews wondered if he was Elijah, some even question if he was John the Baptist returned from the dead (Matthew 14:2 & Mark 6:14). As his works and reputation develop people are forced to make a decision. Many decide he is evil, wicked (Matthew 12:23–24, Mark 3:22–30, John 10:19–21), even possessed, presumably because Jesus' words and actions do not conform to their religious expectations. In this instance the Scribes believe he is possessed when logically he cannot be: one possessed by demons cannot drive out demons (Matthew 9:34, 12:24 & 12:27, et al). Faced with his miracles and his controversial sayings the Scribes dismiss his as evil (John 8:48–50). It is this question of religious conformity that sets Jesus apart, according to the Jewish religious elite (John 9:16–17). There is division: no one is recorded as regarding him to be of no consequence (John 7:40–43).

Addressing the disciples, Jesus asks who people say that the Son of Man is. Simon Peter reiterates what people are saying – speculating – about him; but Jesus presses Peter–

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’ And they said, ‘Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’ And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven’… Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah. (Matthew 16:13–17, & 20, also, Mark 8:27–30; Luke 9:20–21)

Jesus does not force his identity onto people; it is important for people to come to a realisation, a decision. Jesus doesn't simply declare who he is and demand that people accept it – that is how Herod and Pilate expect the people to respond. Those in authority who exercised power and judgement over Jesus regarded him as a challenge to their power and authority even though he wielded no power himself. Therefore the origin of aut Deus aut malus homo lies in Jesus' encounters with the people he met, but essentially in his question to Peter. Jesus is not saying, ‘Who would you like me to be?’ What is important is that through faith each and every one Jesus met had the opportunity to perceive the truth about him (John 3). This related to their salvation, and echoes with Lewis's own conversion experience.

The apostle Paul develops this question into an either-or dialectic: Jesus was God incarnate and he was raised from the dead (when no ordinary mortal could be resurrected) or he was not. If not then our faith is of no value (1 Corinthians 15:13–18). Paul takes the question of Jesus' identity and turns it round and looks at the implications for the human situation. If Jesus was not the Christ and was not resurrected then we of all people are to be pitied. Jesus is Deus, or we are irretrievably lost in our sins – we are Fallen and malus. This either-or distinction is therefore rooted in the Gospel. Nothing humanity can do or say can close the dialectic: people have to come to a decision when they encounter Jesus either through reading the Bible or through the witness of the church. In the early and Patristic church the arguments were about the precise nature of Jesus Christ as perfect God and perfect man; the question, ‘What do we make of him if he is not divine?’, did not essentially arise until the fourth century after Constantine's acceptance of Christianity as the official religion. A generation later, under Julian the Apostate, many theologians and churchmen were pressed to justify Christ's divinity. It is at this time that the ‘What if?’ question begins to be fielded.

Charles Gore attributes the origin of the either-or question specifically to the Emperor Julian's contemporary the Patristic theologian Gaius Marius Victorinus with the qualifier that if Jesus was merely a man then he cannot be considered good and wise.29 The rejection of Christianity and the revival of the Roman Pagan religion by Julian fuelled Victorinus' writing:30 no ordinary man would have said and done the things attributed to Jesus. In a short treatise to his friend Candidus the Arian (de generatione verbi divini) Victorinus writes, ‘Saying these things he was God, if he did not lie; if however he lied, he was not the work of God perfect in all ways.’31 Victorinus is writing about the theology of the divine Word (Jesus Christ); he often uses and invokes the word existential (exsistentialis, exsistentialitas, exsistentialiter) to describe the relationship between the believer and Christ, and writes of the eternal generation of the divine word, hence Victorinus can write that if Jesus only pretended to be God, if he imitated, feigned, if he outright lied, then he was not completely in every way the perfect work of God. He does not go as far as to say that if he is not God he is malus homo, but the implication is that if he pretended, feigned or lied, then he was not a good man.

Walter Hooper notes that the phrase, ‘aut Deus aut malus homo’, is probably from Lewis's reading of the treatise of Pope Innocent III, On the Misery of the Human Condition, in which the king encounters a philosopher who comments: ‘Aut Deus es aut homo: si Deus es, debui te adorari; si homo, potui iuxta te sedere’ (‘You are either a god or a man: if you are a god, I ought to worship you; if a man, I should be able to sit beside you’).32 There is therefore, early on, this distinction between God and man in Lewis's thinking, though it does not relate directly to Jesus' ontology, or the question of the nature of Jesus' moral character if merely human.

Philosophers and theologians generally accepted the divinity of Christ in Western Europe during the Middle Ages – Deism, Theism and ‘modern’ atheism had yet to rear their Lernaean-Hydra-like heads. This does not imply that in the Middle Ages these questions were ignored. Theologians and philosophers would examine the questions and deduce from the scriptural record, applying the skill of reason, in much the same way as Lewis did –aut Deus aut malus homo. Aquinas writes not of madness, lunacy or evil if Jesus is not divine, he writes of pride:

The man Christ, speaking of himself, says many divine and supernatural things, as, ‘I will raise him up at the last day’ (John 6:40), ‘I give them life everlasting’ (John 10:28). Such language would be the height of pride, if the speaker were not himself God, but only had God dwelling in him. And still Christ says of himself: ‘Learn of me, because I am meek and humble of heart’ (Matthew 9:29).33

What has pride to do with Jesus' ontology? Aquinas notes, quoting The Book of Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) that pride is the root of all sin: ‘We must therefore say that pride, even as denoting a special sin, is the beginning of every sinTherefore, from this point of view, pride, which is the desire to excel, is said to be the “beginning” of every sin.’34 If Jesus was merely human then he exhibited the height of pride, which does not tally with what we know of the man. Therefore we cannot take Jesus seriously as an ordinary man. If he is not God then, for Aquinas, pride is the only explanation for the arrogant overbearing manner, the superiority manifested in his presumptuous claims.

Reformation and Post Reformation

In the sixteenth century Sir Thomas More identified this dilemma in his last work, Dialogue of Comfort Against Tribulation, written whilst imprisoned in the Tower of London. This is a dialogue between two characters – Vincent, a young man seeking spiritual guidance from his uncle, Anthony.35 The Dialogue is set in Hungary in the late 1520s just before the Turkish occupation. The analogy More was creating was with the chaos unleashed by Henry VIII's reformation. Anthony warns of the consequences for Christians of the religion of the Turks – Islam – and how what is at the heart of the Christian faith is at stake, namely, the divinity of Christ. Anthony warns against dialogue with ‘the Turk’ who will seek your denial of Christ:

But he would, little by little, ere he left you, make you deny Christ altogether and take Mohamed in his stead. And so doth he in the beginning, when he will not have you believe him to be God. For surely, if he Christ were not God, he would be no good man either, since he plainly said he was God. But through he would go never so far forth with you, yet Christ will, as I said, not take your service by halves, but will that you shall love him with all your whole heart. … You cannot serve both God and your riches together.36

Christ's demand is wholehearted; luke-warm neutrality over the question of the divinity of Christ is not acceptable. In this context More asserts that if Christ is not God he could not be considered a good man, because ‘he plainly said he was God’. It is the evidence from scripture which condemns Jesus' moral character if he was only a mere human. No good man, no one morally upright and true, would have behaved as Jesus did.

Pushing the question of Jesus' identity to a dialectical extreme became popular amongst Protestant and Reformed ministers and preachers from the time of the Age of Reason. If the human intellect is to try to define what Jesus was from its own resources then the witness of scripture comes into prime importance. Therefore apologists drew on their reading of the Gospels and the examples we noted of how Jesus engendered such an either-or decision with regards to his ontological identity.

Calvin's Institutes is grounded in scripture. He does not tackle the question ‘What do we say about Jesus if he was not God incarnate?’ directly. Christ's divinity is taken for granted37– there are numerous theological justifications relating to sacrifice and salvation as to why he must be perfect God and perfect man; however, he does comment that those who doubt the incarnation make God, Jesus, or the Evangelists out to be a liars.38 However, Calvin asserts that, ‘Little dependence could be placed on these statements, were it not proved by numerous passages throughout the sacred volume that none of them is of man's devising.’39

The Scottish preacher John Duncan, in discussions with William Knight, published in 1870, commented that, ‘Christ either deceived mankind by conscious fraud, or he was himself deluded and self-deceived, or he was divine. There is no getting out of this trilemma. It is inexorable.’40 Duncan's comments are in a sub-section entitled Christ's Trilemma, and conclude discussions about the incarnation, and lead into material on Western concepts of justification.41 Lewis is not unique in his use of an argument to force a decision on Christ's identity.42 During the Age of Reason and the Enlightenment orthodox churchmen and theologians were, in effect, on the defensive because there was a much greater demand to prove the divinity of Christ. There are several examples of the type of reasoning that undergirds a bipartite dialectical proposition being used, especially within the last two hundred years. It would help if we examine three in relative depth: Mark Hopkins, Henry Parry Liddon and G.K. Chesterton.

Mark Hopkins

In a lecture series delivered before the Lowell Institute in 184443 Mark Hopkins examines the condition, character and claims of Christ. Of necessity Hopkins has to consider whether this man was an imposter, or does have what he terms the true insignia of office. The question revolves around a decision: was Jesus a good or a bad man –‘if we were simply to withdraw his character and acts, the whole [Christian] system would collapse at once.’44 Hopkins accepts that ‘In general, he claimed to be the Messiah, the Son of God, and the Saviour of men’.45 Hopkins does not go into the question of what it is to be a truly divine person and what is implied by taking away the sins of the world (he also assumes that ‘messiahship’ and ‘incarnation’ are part of the same identity), however, he does examine two crucial questions – what did it mean to be a perfectly sinless being and what does it tell us that he was and is the final judge of the world. Jesus did not simply fulfil the stereotypical idea of a messiah common amongst the Jews living under the yoke of Rome. Jesus was not the militaristic liberator many expected; he came declaring himself to be not just a light, but the light of the world in relation to humanity. Whatever understanding the Jews who knew Jesus had of God, whatever concept of God Jesus spoke of, there can be no higher conception, ‘He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes, or as the philosophers who ran into subtle distinctions, and deduced everything from the nature of thingsHe spoke with the calmness, and dignity, and decision, of one who bore credentials that challenged entire deference.’46 And this, asserts Hopkins, before we even contemplate the depth and weight of his sayings and parables. The greatest amount of human activity, the human efforts to be civilized and progressive has failed to quantifiably advance the cause of humanity, or, in contemporary terms, change the human condition, the human predicament. Only conforming ourselves to the model that is Christ would change humanity.47

[He displayed the] qualities, and that deportment, which were appropriate to him as the Messiah and Saviour of the world. Is it possible that he who claimed to be greater than Solomon, to command legions of angels, to raise the dead, who spoke of himself as the Son of God, and as the final Judge of the world – should so move, and speak, and act, as to sustain a character compatible with these high pretensions, and yet have the condescension, and gentleness, and meekness, of Christ? And yet such is the character presented by the evangelists. There is no break, no incongruity. Like his own seamless garment, the character is one. He seems to combine, with perfect ease, these elements, apparently so incompatible.48

This is the dilemma at the heart of aut Deus aut malus homo; if he was human, the messianic pretentions do not fit in with a good, altruistic, wise and humble character bereft of all human preferment, a character that eschewed authority and power where authority and power inevitably go hand in hand with sin. Jesus delivers his people from their sins; therefore he must be free from sin (and not just free from the corruption of worldly authority and power). But this claim – to be sinless and apart from sinners – has never been made by another sane and rational human being.49

Therefore, Hopkins asserts that the condition, the claims and the character of Jesus Christ raise the question was he deceived or a deceiver? Was he sincere? If he was then we must conclude that anyone who made such claims must be ‘utterly insane.’50 Such notions are, Hopkins writes, entertained by some of the most disturbed inmates of lunatic asylums –‘can we conceive of wider hallucinations.’51 Hopkins concludes that either Jesus' claims were well-founded or he was hopelessly unbalanced. It is then even harder to believe that if he was of a sound mind that he sought to deceive all around him, and kept up the pretence – faultlessly – even when it led to his torture and death. If this were so then there is no ground of faith in goodness.

Henry Parry Liddon

Henry Parry Liddon was fully versed in the arguments surrounding the status of Jesus Christ inherent in the statement aut Deus aut malus homo. In the 1866 Bampton Lectures at Oxford, which he devoted to the question of Christ's divinity, he commented how Jesus' self assertion was not just embodied in his sayings – statements that would be blasphemy coming from anyone else – but also his actions.52 This witness is found consistently across the Gospels; what he is, is revealed not just by what he says, but by his actions and his demeanour towards those around him from the poorest of the poor to the great and powerful in Judea and Rome. Therefore, Liddon writes that Christus, si non Deus, non bonus: if Jesus is not God, then he is by no means good:

A man must either base such self-assertion on its one sufficient justification, by accepting the Church's faith in the Deity of Christ; or he must regard it as fatal to the moral beauty of Christ's human character –Christus, si non Deus, non bonus53

We cannot therefore admire the moral beauty and wisdom of Jesus if we do not take seriously the divine ontological status that is integral. Therefore any value we may read from the sayings and actions of Jesus is because he is the Son of God and Son of Man. If he is not God then by what evidence, value or supposition do we consider him good?

Liddon comments that those denying Christ must be taken seriously; asserting Jesus' divinity involves grave responsibility. In the context of Jesus' ontological identity, Liddon asserted that there were essentially three groups: those who unquestioningly saw and accepted Jesus as God incarnate; then there were the vast majority who shrank from a rejection of orthodox Christianity, yet were puzzled and sceptical of these assertions associated with Jesus as the Christ; third, the relatively large group of intellectuals who rejected the concept of incarnation and revelation. This third group, an intellectual élite, issuing from the Age of Reason and the Enlightenment, would prefer to keep God – if ‘god’ exists – as some impersonal force outside the universe:

There are others, and, it may be fared, a larger class than is often supposed, who have made up their minds against the claims of divine revelation altogether. They may admit the existence of a Supreme Being, in some shadowy sense, an infinite mind, or as a resistless force. They may deny that there is any satisfactory reason for holding that any such being exists at all. But whether they are theists or atheists, they resent the idea of any interference from on high in the human world, and accordingly they denounce the supernatural, on àpriori grounds. The trustworthiness of scripture as an historical record is to their minds sufficiently disproved by the undoubted fact, that its claim to credit is staked upon the possibility of certain extraordinary miracles. When that possibility is denied, Jesus Christ must either be pronounced to be a charlatan, or a person of whose real words and actions no trustworthy account has been transmitted to us.54

If we reject the very nature of Jesus' being (because of a range of deistic, theistic, or atheistic viewpoints that issued from the Age of Reason and the Enlightenment), then there are two options open to us: either Jesus is a charlatan (an imposter, a fake or fraud, a pretender who swindled his followers out of the truth – which is a more nuanced way of saying he was malus, a liar, bad, or evil), or the biblical account is flawed – a true account of his words and actions has not been conveyed to us. Liddon's proposition is trilemmic: Jesus is God incarnate, or he is a liar, or scripture is a liar. If we do not accept the biblical account as accurate, despite some mythical elements (or what to Lewis was the humanity of scripture), then we reject God's revelation. And if we reject God's revelation we are left, as Lewis was only too aware, with an infinite number of ‘gods’ of our own making, ‘gods’ and idols that won't interfere with us, won't trouble us, ‘gods’ and idols that are really only a projection of our deepest fears and desires, ‘gods’ and idols that cannot save. The key, certainly for Liddon, is in what he terms the trustworthiness of scripture.

Liddon examines this thesis is some detail.55 At the heart of the Gospel is the consciousness, the personhood of Jesus. Liddon acknowledges that there is a dilemma between the Christ of dogma and the Christ of history; however, if this appears dialectical then we must see the Christ of history subsumed into the Christ of dogma. We must accept that the dogma of the church is correct, and is historical. The incarnation may not be obvious to our innate religious ideas; it may appear at times to be an inaccessible abstraction.56 However, the incarnation is intimately intertwined with the resurrection, and resurrection is at the heart of the truth of Christianity: reject the resurrection and we reject Christianity.57 The resurrection is the chief amongst the miracles that relate to Jesus' divinity.58 We do not necessarily need to be orthodox believers to see that asserting Christ's divinity is the fairest interpretation of the text if we are going to respect the text and not deconstruct it into oblivion.59 The problem comes when we try to assert ‘the perfection of Jesus’ moral character, while denying the historical reality of his miracles.’60 Liddon asks why the exponents of a merely human Jesus, a humanitarian prophet and moral teacher, do not question why Jesus never challenged his disciples projecting onto him these miraculous happenings. Was he, Liddon asks, an ignorant victim or the promoter of a crude superstition; was he passive and unresisting or conniving? Can we still uphold this Jesus as the moral ideal of humanity, a moral paradigm?61

If Jesus' divinity is witnessed to by his, in Liddon's term, consciousness, then what do we make of his moral character? What was his self-awareness? What can we say about the moral character of Jesus in relation to the question of his divinity? What was Jesus' understanding of himself in relation to and in conversation with his disciples and his followers?62 Given that the first stage of Christ's teaching is mainly ethical then we are concerned with fundamental moral truth. The Sermon on the Mount lays down the highest law of holiness (Matthew 5:48). Do we detect any unworthiness, humility, or personal compromise in Jesus? No; he makes no concession to being, like his listeners, human and endowed with the ability to struggle to achieve moral perfection.63 There is no distance between himself and his message. Liddon notes that Jesus never once confesses to being sinful; and he never once asks for pardon: ‘He challenges his enemies to convince him of sin. He declares positively that he does always the will of the Father. Even when speaking of himself as man, he always refers to eternal life as his inalienable possession.’64 We are forced to conclude that he has a sense of perfect sinlessness; an absolute sinlessness unknown to our human experience.65 Jesus also has the authority to revise the Sinaitic revelation. But what of Jesus?–

Here is a teacher who sees truth intuitively, and announces it simply, without condescending to recommend it by argument. He is a teacher, moreover, not of truth obvious to all, but of truth which might have seemed to the men who first heard it to be what we should call paradoxical. he condemns in the severest language the doctrine and the practice of the most influential religious authorities among his countrymen. He takes up instinctively a higher position than he assigns to any who had preceded him in Israel.66

Therefore it is not just the claims to divinity from John's Gospel that Liddon relies on but Jesus' manner that was not merely human. This demeanour would be of moral superiority, even arrogance, but for who he was. This in part is why Jesus provoked such unfriendly scrutiny amongst those of the religious authorities whom he encountered.67

In the second stage of Jesus' teaching we are faced with the persistency of his self assertion.68 Jesus unremittingly asserts the real character of himself, his position in relation to God and humanity, and his claims upon the soul of humanity. He speaks of himself as the light of the world, a world darkened by sin; he claims to be the universal judge of all mankind. He encourages people to trust in him in the way they would trust in God. In this context, asserts Liddon, the upper room discourses (John chapters 13–17) are representative–

We cannot deny that he used words which have substantially the same meaning. We cannot deny that he called himself King, Master, and judge of men; that he promised to give rest to the weary and the heavy-laden; that he instructed his followers to hope for life from feeding on his body and his blood.69

These comments and the demands of Christ upon the human soul would be intolerable if he was only a man. It is, comments Liddon, impossible to reflect on the claims of Jesus in relation to the Last Judgement without feeling that if he was human then these words should never have been spoken; if he is God incarnate then these words ‘carry us forward irresistibly to a truth beyond and above itself.’70 This is precisely because Jesus regards those who come to him as belonging to him, his own –‘in virtue of an existing right.’71

This relationship of judgement and ownership in relation to humanity is confirmed by his relationship, on terms of equality, with God as Father. Christ simultaneously reveals his Godhead to the Apostles, and to ‘the Jews’ (it is the Jewish religious authorities, a religious élite, that is referred to in John's Gospel as ‘the Jews’, not necessarily the Jews ethnically as a race).72 Therefore we have the reaction of ‘the Jews’, not only because he broke the Sabbath but because he made himself equal with God by claiming God was his own Father (John 5:18).73 Jesus' relationship with God the Father goes deeper than this. There is his claim to oneness with the Father, which is indispensible to what we see and know of Jesus.

Beyond this assertion of an equal operative Power with the Father, and of an equal right to the homage of mankind, is our Lord's revelation of his absolute oneness of essence with the Father. The Jews gathered around him at the Feast of Dedication in the Porch of Solomon, and pressed him to tell them whether he was the Christ or not.* Our Lord referred them to the teaching which they had heard, and to the miracles which they had witnessed in vain.74

*: John 10:22–25

Christ's consciousness is of having existed before his human birth –‘Before Abraham was “I Am”’ (John 8:58); Christ affirms that he came down from heaven, however, Liddon does comment that pre-existence alone, does not confirm divinity.75

According to John's Gospel ‘The Jews’ understood Jesus to be assuming divine honours, which is why they went to stone him to death for blasphemy under the Mosaic law.76 Jesus merely reasons with them, getting them to see their own ‘real or assumed grounds, and so to bring them back to a point at which they were forced to draw for themselves the very inference which had just roused their indignation.’77 Therefore what the Father is to the Son, the Son is to the Father. As Liddon points out, ‘the Jews’ did not understand Jesus' claim to be one with the Father, they did not believe him to mean that he was ontologically at one with the Father. Jesus did not seek to contradict them on this assumption, and the accusation of blasphemy issued from it.78 If the religious authorities condemned him it was not for being a false prophet and false Messiah, as Liddon states, it was because he claimed literal divinity.79 This is confirmed by Jesus' testimony before the Sanhedrin (Matthew 23:63–65).

It is the relationship between Christ's assertion of divinity, the self-disclosure of his being, that compels Liddon to state that if Christ is not God, then he is by no means good: Christus, si non Deus, non bonus.80 To arrive at this point Liddon examines the sincerity of Jesus Christ, the unselfishness of Jesus Christ, and the humility of Jesus Christ; and how this compares with ‘ordinary’ human beings;81 Therefore he is compelled to ask three questions –‘Is Jesus Christ humble, if he is not God?, ‘Is Jesus Christ unselfish, if he is not God?’ and ‘Is Jesus Christ sincere, if he is not God?82 Liddon is forced to conclude that Christ, if sincere, must be divine.83 In response to accusations of demonic possession he merely exposes the deception and evil intent in others. Therefore, Liddon asks, what are we to make of these integral features, these character traits, if – in the context of what he said and did – we choose to deny that he is God’.84

If Christ is God as well as man, his language falls into its place, and all is intelligible; but if you deny his divinity, you must conclude that some of the most precious sayings in the Gospel are but the outbreak of a preposterous self-laudation; they might well seem to breathe the very spirit of another Lucifer.85

It is at this point that Liddon gets close to the mad or bad elements in Lewis's trilemma. Liddon writes of Jesus' perpetual self-assertion, which no ordinary human would do in the context of his chosen role as victim and sacrifice. As a mere man, his death loses its meaning.

Christ's Godhead is warranted by his character; the Christ of history is the Christ of dogma, writes Liddon. The human glory, as he terms it, fades if we deny Jesus' divinity.86 Therefore in conclusion Liddon asserts:

The choice really lies between the hypothesis of conscious and culpable insincerity, and the belief that Jesus speaks literal truth and must be taken at his word … It is no hardship to faith that we cannot deny the divinity of Jesus, without casting a slur upon his human character.87

Christianity as doctrine creed and life, as church and as salvation, depends completely upon the personal character of its founder – Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ. And this personal character is not good if he was not God: aut Deus aut malus homo, or to Liddon, Christus, si non Deus, non bonus.88

Lewis's Appropriation of Liddon?

Did Lewis read Liddon? There are several points that Liddon makes which Lewis also offers at some point in his discussion of aut Deus aut malus homo. For example, Liddon notes how many atheists or deists ‘resent the idea of any interference from on high in the human world, and accordingly they denounce the supernatural, on àpriori grounds.’89 Lewis makes the same point about his conversion. Lewis concluded, as God drew near to him around 1929–1930, that at the centre of Christianity was what he termed a transcendental interferer. Lewis commented that, ‘there was no region even in the innermost depth of one's soul which one could surround with a barbed wire fence and guard with a notice, “No Admittance!”’90 Lewis also lays the same emphasis, as does Liddon, on how Jesus never confesses to being sinful or asking pardon.91 There are many markers between the two writers that suggest that Lewis probably did read Liddon's work, particularly in the dialectical structure, the playing off of elements to leave the dialectic open as a complementary rather than supplementary dialectic (to be resolved eschatologically). Liddon's reputation and fame as an Anglo-Catholic Victorian Churchman was considerable, particularly given these Bampton Lectures. Plenty of copies would still have been available in the Oxford of Lewis's time as a student and young don. However, an influence cannot be proved, and there is little reason to demonstrate a connection other than the observation that it does pose an example of Lewis's wide reading and how his theology developed within an orthodox Anglican tradition; furthermore that his understanding of his BMG trilemma was rooted in the tradition of aut Deus aut malus homo.

G.K. Chesterton

Liddon's examination of aut Deus aut malus homo is probably the most extensive analysis; however, it is in the work of G.K. Chesterton that we find the acknowledged source of Lewis's appropriation. Lewis comments in Surprised by Joy that in Chesterton's The Everlasting Man he had read a version of human history that finally made sense. But as this was during his pre-Christian period, he had to dismiss Chesterton's faith as having no bearing on his worldview.92 Lewis's view at the time (1926) was ‘that Christianity itself was very sensible, apart from its Christianity’.93 Furthermore he commented that not long after reading The Everlasting Man he was confronted by a fervent atheist within a tutorial who commented ‘that the evidence for the historicity of the Gospels was really surprisingly good.’94 This was during Lewis's Hegelian period. Later, in 1945, speaking to church youth leaders, Lewis reiterated the importance of Chesterton as the source of his use of aut Deus aut malus homo.95

Chesterton's The Everlasting Man, asserts a creedal Christ without compromise.96 Chesterton examines the character of Jesus – a Christ who was and is the most merciful judge, a sympathetic friend; this is beyond the merely philosophical or historical. Chesterton warns against the fact that Jesus has been ‘swamped in cheap generalisations’.97 But we must be prepared to work through these to find the real Christ, the one who haunts us like a ghost, which can be found in the New Testament. Chesterton notes how the character of Jesus is the very last for us to associate with the intoxication of megalomania, and yet ‘such steep and staggering megalomania as might be associated in that claim’98 causes us to reconsider. Humanity may decide it is not what a normal person would say and yet humanity refuses to accept the veracity of this man's claims. For Chesterton, despite what he said, Jesus does not exhibit ‘the mark of the self-deluding sensationalist in religion.’99 No other prophet or religious teacher of the order of Jesus ever made such a claim, and it would seem impossible and preposterous for such a religious leader, guru or prophet to have such a claim projected onto him–

Even if the Church had mistaken his meaning, it would still be true that no other historical tradition except the Church had ever even made the same mistake. Muslims did not misunderstand Muhammad and suppose he was Allah. Jews did not misinterpret Moses and identify him with Jehovah. Why was this claim alone exaggerated unless this alone was made? Even if Christianity was one vast universal blunder, it is still a blunder as solitary as the incarnation.100

If all religions are equal, asserts Chesterton, then we may suppose that this is a fixed falsity. But clearly all religions are not equal. The greater a person is, the less likely she or he is to assert such a claim – only secretive or self-centred people do. Only Pharaohs and Roman Emperors got anywhere near making such a claim and then it was to be one of the ‘gods’, nothing approaching the God above all Gods that the Jews bore witness to. Jesus was no solitary narcissistic megalomaniac pseudo-divine autocratic ruler. There are rare cases of such men or women outside of the ranks of the Emperor Caligula but, and here Chesterton moves into the question of sanity-insanity, they are to be found in asylums, ‘in padded cells possibly in strait waistcoats’; such deluded individuals are locked away ‘under very crude and clumsy laws about lunacy.’101 Because of the manner in which such individuals are imprisoned within their delusions, writes Chesterton, a genuine delusion of divinity may subsist. However, you do not find this among religious leaders, gurus, great philosophers and prophets. Was Jesus amongst the former group – the isolated and deluded, the mentally-ill – or do we consider him amongst, at the very least, the wise and profound, compassionate religious leaders?

For nobody supposes that Jesus of Nazareth was that sort of person. No modern critic in his five wits thinks that the preacher of the Sermon on the Mount was a horrible half-witted imbecile that might be scrawling stars on the walls of a cell. No atheist or blasphemer believes that the author of the Parable of the Prodigal Son was a monster with one mad idea like a Cyclops with one eye. Upon any possible historical criticism, he must be put higher in the scale of human beings than that. Yet by all analogy we have really to put him there or else in the highest place of all.102

Chesterton therefore appeals to the reasonableness of what we see and know of Jesus. If we try to balance out the claims and possibilities we are left with a dilemma. We cannot categorize this man as deluded or insane because the wisdom and strength of his teaching and actions are above what we would expect from the everyday man or woman. We can accept him for what he was and is, or we can try to invent some other excuse or explanation. The only satisfactory way in which these two characters have been combined is for Chesterton in the creed – as very God and very man.

For Chesterton, Jesus is precisely what a deluded person never is – he is wise, he is a good judge, he is compassionate, he does not exhibit the simplicity of a madman, he is clearly a highly complex character on a human level. If God is God, and humanity is humanity then we are left with a paradox: as we approach a point we are receding. Socrates, Chesterton notes, realized that as a wise man he knew nothing – the more he knew the more he did not know. But then, ‘No two things could possibly be more different than the death of Socrates and the death of Christ.’103

Contemporary Developments

Variations on aut Deus aut malus homo have been used often by Presbyterian or Evangelical ministers and preachers in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries from Reuben Archer Torrey to the evangelical preacher Josh McDowell. McDowell has rephrased Lewis's trilemma as, ‘Lunatic, Liar or Lord.’104 This has been a successful ploy, it raises the profile of the question when so many seek to believe Jesus was just a good man: ‘Jesus’ distinct claims of being God eliminate the popular ploy of sceptics who regard him as just a good moral man or a prophet who said a lot of profound things.’105 McDowell notes how it is not just the teachings, and for that matter the miracles, that make Jesus so distinct and remarkable, it is the man himself. Contemporary theologians and philosophers are generally cautious about such confident assertions; however, the basic proposition is often used but phrased in a more nuanced manner. For example,

Therefore, the question of Jesus identity, role, or relationship to the divine forced itself on those who came in contact with him. Either he was blasphemous, a fool, or he spoke with divine authority.106

Lewis's ‘Bad, Mad or God’, is popular amongst contemporary Evangelicals, and is featured as an important part in the Alpha Course, though in most of these instances there is little or no rigorous debate about the pros and cons within the argument, and rarely any acknowledgement of the theological history of, aut Deus aut malus homo.

The Roman Catholic philosopher Peter Kreeft has reiterated the proposition aut Deus aut malus homo on many occasions, often in the context of using and defending Lewis's trilemma. Kreeft asserts that if Jesus speaks the truth, then we must fall at his feet and worship him. But if he is not what he said he was then, ‘a mere man who wants you to worship him as God is not a good man.’107 If he is not God and knows it, then he must be considered morally and/or intellectually bad; if he doesn't know it, then he must be considered deluded, maybe even insane.

A measure of your insanity is the size of the gap between what you think you are and what you really are. If I think I am the greatest philosopher in America, I am only an arrogant fool; if I think I am Napoleon, I am probably over the edge; if I think I am a butterfly, I am fully embarked from the sunny shores of sanity. But if I think I am God, I am even more insane because the gap between anything finite and the infinite God is even greater than the gap between any two finite things, even a man and a butterfly.108

Was Jesus deluded or a deceiver? Kreeft notes the wisdom displayed in Jesus' ability to know people deep in their souls, his capacity to know the unspoken behind the outward appearance of people, but also his gift to heal the hurt and flaws deep in people's souls. This, writes Kreeft, is not what we would expect from a deluded man or a deceiver. Likewise Jesus' ability, as Kreeft puts it, to astonish, to be creative, none of this fits with a picture of Jesus as insane or evil: ‘No one who knows both the Gospels and human beings can seriously entertain the possibility that Jesus was a liar or a lunatic, a bad man.’109

Peter Kreeft and Ronald Tacelli have expanded Josh McDowell's adaptation from a trilemma to what they call a quadrilemma: ‘Lunatic, Liar, Lord, or Legend’, however, this element of legend seems to apply more to the nature of the scriptural narrative than to Jesus himself – unless those who propose legend as an explanation are saying that Jesus simply did not ever exist!110 Does a quadrilemma really tell us any more about Jesus than the dilemma inherent in aut Deus malus homo?

An exception to the superficial, and sometimes trite, treatment of the ‘Bad, Mad or God’ argument by those who can be broadly considered to be American Evangelicals, is to be found in the work of the American Christian philosopher Stephen T. Davis. Together with Gerald O'Collins SJ and David Kendall SJ, Davis worked on an ‘Interdisciplinary Symposium on the incarnation of the Son of God’, Easter 2000, held in New York.111 Davis spoke on his analysis of the philosophical structure of Lewis's trilemma; Davis is relatively rare in being an academic philosopher-theologian who takes Lewis's trilemma seriously, regarding it as a demonstration of the rationality of the belief in the incarnation.112

IV. ‘UNBALANCED LIAR’, ‘POSSESSED’, OR ‘THE GOD OF ISRAEL’: THE JOHANNINE TRILEMMA

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. I. INTRODUCTION
  4. II. WHAT DID LEWIS SAY?
  5. III. THE SCRIPTURAL & THEOLOGICAL TRADITION
  6. IV. ‘UNBALANCED LIAR’, ‘POSSESSED’, OR ‘THE GOD OF ISRAEL’: THE JOHANNINE TRILEMMA
  7. V. C.S. LEWIS: TRANSPOSED REALITY OF DIVINE SONSHIP
  8. VI. THE STRUCTURE OF LEWIS'S TRILEMIC ARGUMENT
  9. VII. PROOF … OR A QUESTION, A HUMAN DILEMMA?
  10. VIII. AUT DEUS AUT MALUS HOMO
  11. IX. CONCLUSION

Gerald O'Collins SJ has summarized the twentieth century developments of the dilemma, aut Deus aut malus homo, into a trilemma. He sees these developments essentially in the work of Chesterton and Lewis (the BMG argument), and the subsequent American-Evangelical developments. However, he has also identified the roots of the Chesterton-Lewis trilemma in John's Gospel (though he makes no mention of the historical development throughout church history of aut Deus aut malus homo):

In the twentieth century, G.K. Chesterton and, even more clearly C.S. Lewis developed a ‘bad’, ‘mad’ or ‘(Son of) God’ argument. The claims Jesus made to an authority that has to be acknowledged as divine, leaves us with three possibilities: he was morally and religiously wicked; or he was out of his mind; or his claims were true and he genuinely was the Son of God come among us. At the end of the first century AD, John's Gospel presents a similar choice in Jesus' controversy with his critics; either Jesus is a ‘liar’, or he is unbalanced and ‘has a demon’, or else he is truly the divine ‘Light of the world’.113

O'Collins ties the idea of a trilemma into John's Gospel (Figure 2). Those who wanted to stone Jesus were not motivated by his miraculous signs and healings but by his actions and sayings which they saw as evidence that he claimed to be God (John 10:31–39) – not just that he claimed to be at one with God, but that he acted as if he was truly the God of Israel. Jesus is therefore characterized by falsehood of varying degrees, or he was demonically possessed (John 8:49 and 10:21); however, it is important to remember that the accusation of demonic possession was also levelled at John the Baptist (Matthew 11:18 and Luke 7:33). Therefore those who represented the Jewish religious authorities who encountered Jesus realized that they were faced with a dilemma, which was like the Chesterton-Lewis trilemma. There is similar concern in Mark's Gospel: ‘When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.” And the teachers of the law who came down from Jerusalem said, “He is possessed by Beelzebub! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons”’ (Mark 3:20–22).

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Figure 2.  The Johannine trilemma

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So Lewis's proposition that Jesus was either ‘Bad, Mad or God’ is grounded in a long theological heritage of aut Deus aut malus homo (a dialectical dilemma), which itself is rooted in scripture: Jesus' question to all of us, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ (Matthew 16:15). But more pertinently aut Deus aut malus homo is grounded not in the either-or dilemma so characteristic of the theological history but in a tripartite question in John's Gospel: the Johannine trilemma. John's Gospel records the response by ‘the Jews’ (the Jewish religious authorities) who regarded Jesus as a threat. They could not ignore him, so they were forced to choose between three options: either he was an unbalanced liar; or he was possessed; or he was the God of Israel descended to dwell with his people: Son of God and Son of Man. Many contemporaries, including Gerald O'Collins, can perceive what is at the heart of this speculation: the key to the question of the divinity of Jesus lies in what he was and is, and the key to the nature of what and who Jesus was and is (ontologically) lies with John's Gospel. If we accept Christ as God incarnate we must accept John's Gospel; if we reject this man's divinity it is through a rejection of the fourth Gospel.114

V. C.S. LEWIS: TRANSPOSED REALITY OF DIVINE SONSHIP

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. I. INTRODUCTION
  4. II. WHAT DID LEWIS SAY?
  5. III. THE SCRIPTURAL & THEOLOGICAL TRADITION
  6. IV. ‘UNBALANCED LIAR’, ‘POSSESSED’, OR ‘THE GOD OF ISRAEL’: THE JOHANNINE TRILEMMA
  7. V. C.S. LEWIS: TRANSPOSED REALITY OF DIVINE SONSHIP
  8. VI. THE STRUCTURE OF LEWIS'S TRILEMIC ARGUMENT
  9. VII. PROOF … OR A QUESTION, A HUMAN DILEMMA?
  10. VIII. AUT DEUS AUT MALUS HOMO
  11. IX. CONCLUSION

The primary element of Lewis's trilemma is the divinity of Jesus of Nazareth. This is encapsulated in the titles, ‘Son of God’ and ‘Son of Man’. In Beyond Personality Lewis commented that Jesus, ‘is the Son of God (whatever that means). They say that those who give him their confidence can also become Sons of God (whatever that means). They say that his death saved us from our sins (whatever that means).’115 This immediately opens up the question of the relationship between ontology, identity and status, bringing the question pertinently into the human realm – indeed it brings into sharp focus the relationship between the human predicament (original sin) and this Jesus. Furthermore Lewis comments that ‘The Son of God became a man to enable men to become sons of God.’116 Sonship is inherent to the second person of the Trinity, yet it is also extended, because of the nature of Jesus, to humanity; more specifically, it issues from Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection. Talk of salvation in relationship to the Son of God-Son of Man raises the question for Lewis of what would have happened had humanity not rebelled (i.e. the relationship between original sin and this sonship). Lewis questions whether we would all have been in Christ and shared in the life of the Son, but for the Fall.117 Is the purpose of Jesus therefore to restore the relationship between humanity and God lost through the Fall? Living in Christ changes us, moment by moment, through the Son of God-Son of Man who, Lewis asserts, is human like us, yet God, like his Father. Therefore moment by moment Jesus turns our pretence into a reality: he is beginning to turn us into the same kind of thing that he is.118 This brings us to the centre of Lewis's trilemma–

Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon; or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God. But don't let us come with any patronising nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He hasn't left that open to us. He didn't intend to.119

However, in maturity, in the later years of his life, and in the context of his philosophical theology, Lewis was wise enough to state that when we proclaim that Jesus Christ is the Son of God there is inevitably distance between Jesus and God because we cannot think of the relationship in exactly the same way that we perceive of human filial relationships. The relationship is real but analogical.120 Jesus' Sonship is real – but we can only intimate any idea of this by a triune analogy. God descends to reascend, drawing humanity up with him: the patriarchal relationship is therefore very real.121 Lewis explicitly invokes Paul on the nature of spiritual bodies and the general resurrection – our sonship in Christ, our drawing up into the divine life, is through the resurrection.122 Lewis does not force the issue of the divinity of Christ into a trilemma lightly, it is for good reason that he provokes in the manner in which he asserts this question: if he is not God incarnate, if the Crucifixion is a terrible tragic accident without meaning, we lost. We are bidden, wrote Lewis, to become sons of God.123 To do so we must commit ourselves to Christ. Lewis wrote:

Now the point in Christianity which gives us the greatest shock is the statement that by attaching ourselves to Christ, we can ‘become Sons of God’. One asks ‘Aren't we Sons of God already? Surely the fatherhood of God is one of the main Christian ideas?’ Well, in a certain sense, no doubt we are Sons of God already. I mean, God has brought us into existence and loves us and looks after us, and in that way is like a father. But when the Bible talks of our becoming Sons of God, obviously it must mean something different.124

Christ will share his Sonship with us, and will make us like himself. This would not be so if he were a mere mortal, deluded or wicked: ‘He will share his “sonship” with us, will make us, like himself, “Sons of God”’125 It is through this uniting with humanity that the divinity of Jesus is revealed; what is revealed is the real ‘Sonship’, the solid reality (Lewis's term), whereas biological ‘sonship’ is but a diagrammatic representation of it.126 What we take for the familial and filial relationships between a human father and his daughter or between a mother and her son, these are only valid because first there is the analogical relationships within the Trinity: the co-eternal, co-existing, ever relating tripartite relationship of the three persons within the Godhead. Our human relationships should reflect in some ways this communion of love within the Trinitarian Godhead, these human relationships are, in Lewis's words, a diagrammatic representation of this eternal co-existence.127 This relationship in earthly terms is seen at its purest, in intensity, at its best in the relationship between Jesus and his heavenly Father. Hence he cannot be other than whom he discloses himself to be – either this man is the Son of God, or else evil or deluded.

The key to this is in a doctrine of the incarnation: God descending to become human (ontologically uniting with us, not merely taking on human status), to become one of us, at-one (atonement) with humanity, to draw humanity up into divine selfhood. The crucifixion is the turning point, the moment of Jesus' death is the moment of Christus Victor.128 Platonically this is about us being drawn out of the apparent reality of the pain and suffering of this world though Jesus' sinless victory over evil, having paid the price, and into the truly real reality of heaven, eternity.

The incarnation worked not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh, but by taking of the Manhood into God. And it seems to me that there is a real analogy between this and what I have called Transposition: that humanity, still remaining itself, is not merely counted as, but veritably drawn into, Deity.129

Incarnation is the key to the nature and reality of the Son of God as Son of Man. Therefore, for Lewis, he cannot be merely human because of his purpose and role; he cannot, for Lewis, be other than whom he reveals himself to be, the gradual unfolding of self-disclosure divulges to the Jewish and Roman public that Jesus is the Son of God and Son of Man, or not a good human being. N.T. Wright adopts the sceptics position on this and reverses the conclusion, he shows how being rigorously critical approves (if not proves) Jesus' extra-human nature. Wright comments that if Jesus was a mere human being and nothing more, then he would have been aware of being only human, in a human context, and nothing more. The insurmountable difficulties lie in Jesus' self-understanding, which is so completely extra human, flawlessly so.130 For Wright it is this self-identity, this self-understanding, accurately reflected by the Gospel writers that are the true markers of Jesus' divinity more than the conclusions of the Patristic councils and creeds, where the emphasis is on ‘persons’ and ‘substance’. Therefore it is the markers of Jesus' self-understanding (which are essentially existential and behavioural) that we can trust:

If Jesus was a human being and nothing more, part of the picture will precisely be that he was aware of being a human being and nothing more. Unless we can give some sort of account of Jesus' own self-understanding, I simply don't think its good enough to talk about two minds (or one), two natures (or one), or about the various combinations and permutations of persons and substances.131

VI. THE STRUCTURE OF LEWIS'S TRILEMIC ARGUMENT

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. I. INTRODUCTION
  4. II. WHAT DID LEWIS SAY?
  5. III. THE SCRIPTURAL & THEOLOGICAL TRADITION
  6. IV. ‘UNBALANCED LIAR’, ‘POSSESSED’, OR ‘THE GOD OF ISRAEL’: THE JOHANNINE TRILEMMA
  7. V. C.S. LEWIS: TRANSPOSED REALITY OF DIVINE SONSHIP
  8. VI. THE STRUCTURE OF LEWIS'S TRILEMIC ARGUMENT
  9. VII. PROOF … OR A QUESTION, A HUMAN DILEMMA?
  10. VIII. AUT DEUS AUT MALUS HOMO
  11. IX. CONCLUSION

So, having examined what Lewis said in terms of his trilemma, and having considered the theological history of Lewis's proposition in the form of aut Deus aut malus homo, from its Biblical and Patristic roots through to the either-or proposal of Hopkins, Liddon, Chesterton, et al, then we can now turn to Lewis's trilemma and consider its structure and value (Figure 3).132

image

Figure 3.  C.S. Lewis – a 1+2 trilemma

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This argument or question of Christ's divinity has occurred in one form or another through much of the Christian tradition for two thousand years in bipartite form: either-or. Lewis nearly always – certainly when presenting this proposition as popular apologetics – presents not a dilemma but a trilemma. Philosophically (indeed in terms of the so-called Munchhausen-Trilemma) it appears impossible to prove certain truths if infinite regress, dogmatism and circularity are to be avoided. From the perspective of an hermetic concept of reason, humanly defined reason, proof becomes impossible to prove, which leaves us open to revelation; reason cannot survive by itself or justify itself without God, without revelation. You cannot prove God, only accept how God communicates, how God imparts understanding to humanity through revelation. And revelation, for Lewis, is transposed. So, on the question of Christ's divinity we must choose between three notable and powerful propositions; in this case each is distinct and incompatible with the other. From a secular humanist perspective all three propositions are wrong: Jesus cannot be God because for secular liberal humanists there is no God (which, of course, has an element of circularity in it). And this man cannot be mad because his statements clearly do not point to insanity, or psychological disorder. And this man cannot be bad because secular liberal humanists praise Jesus as a good moral teacher. Lewis's tripartite structure of the proposition aut Deus aut malus homo is how he presents the question in his popular apologetics, as a stark three-way forced choice, informative, yet contradictory. However, his comments in the address ‘Christian Apologetics’ where he quotes aut Deus aut malus homos, indicates that the theological root of this proposition is essentially bipartite: God (Deus) or bad-wicked man (malus homo); the second element is then divided into two – deluded or evil, hence the trilemma. Therefore to be more accurate Lewis's proposition is a 1 plus 2 trilemma (where there is a distinction within the second component, between madness or badness) where either of the components must be chosen, all cannot stand.133

VII. PROOF … OR A QUESTION, A HUMAN DILEMMA?

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. I. INTRODUCTION
  4. II. WHAT DID LEWIS SAY?
  5. III. THE SCRIPTURAL & THEOLOGICAL TRADITION
  6. IV. ‘UNBALANCED LIAR’, ‘POSSESSED’, OR ‘THE GOD OF ISRAEL’: THE JOHANNINE TRILEMMA
  7. V. C.S. LEWIS: TRANSPOSED REALITY OF DIVINE SONSHIP
  8. VI. THE STRUCTURE OF LEWIS'S TRILEMIC ARGUMENT
  9. VII. PROOF … OR A QUESTION, A HUMAN DILEMMA?
  10. VIII. AUT DEUS AUT MALUS HOMO
  11. IX. CONCLUSION

Is Lewis forcing, to a degree, Jesus' question ‘But who do you say that I am’? Lewis's trilemma does not demonstrate one element to be true, it presents the options, the alternatives, and therefore echoes Jesus' question: the reader is invited to decide. Lewis was well-read and knew that this proposition was rooted in the Latin theological phrase, aut Deus aut malus homo, however, as a Christian apologist he, to a degree, forced the argument, he popularized the issue. In forcing the issue does Lewis weaken the argument because there are several loosely defined details in his presentation, which upon examination cast doubts about the way Lewis phrased his trilemma? These concerns are focused broadly in two areas: the concept of God Lewis worked with, and his use of language – that is, the concept of insanity.

A Concept of God

Was Lewis trying to formulate a proof of God's existence? What did Lewis mean by God? Or more pertinently, what was meant by God in the first century; what understanding or definition in socio-cultural terms did the human Jesus operate with and what expectation of ‘God’ did he have of those who heard him? The apostles did not regard Jesus as a ‘god’ amongst the Pagan ‘gods’ of Rome or Greece or the surrounding nations, but were invoking the Hebrew perception of God resulting from God's self-revealing. Although there was evidence of a conception of God as anthropomorphic in ancient Israel, by the first century Jews often saw God as intertwined with wisdom: God was the authoritative judge, infinitely wise, immeasurably forgiving and eternally merciful, and this God would, they believed, save them from foreign oppression – this God had done so before – but also he would redeem them from themselves. Hence, only God can truly forgive sins. What has this to do with asserting or undermining Lewis's trilemma? N.T. Wright has often emphasized that the champions of Lewis's proposition (and also those who deny that Jesus disclosed himself as God) have been challenged by scholarship that has exposed a much more nuanced, composite and multifarious understanding of the concept of God amongst the first century Jews and Christians.134 Could Lewis's trilemma have been better worded? Wright points out that this was not necessarily Lewis's aim. What Lewis wrote may have been imperfect but it brought people to the subject of Christ's divinity.135 Wright, even though an orthodox creedal Christian, has criticized Lewis's trilemma because he shows little understanding of the incarnational principle in Judaism. This weakens the arguments of Lewis's followers when they mount a defence of his trilemma. Wright correctly asserts that an understanding of the incarnational principle does place an understanding of Christ's divinity in an historical context:

It places it in its proper historical context and enables it to be at once nuanced into a proto-Trinitarian framework, employing and appropriately transcending the messianic category ‘son of God,’ which simultaneously settles down into first-century Judaism and explodes beyond it. Lewis's overconfident argument, by contrast, does the opposite: It doesn't work as history, and it backfires dangerously when historical critics question his reading of the Gospels.136

Lewis's doctrine of God underpinning the trilemma is that which first century Judaism was grounded in, and this is the understanding of God that Jesus himself had – with the proviso that calling God his Father was new. This is what underpins Jesus' self disclosure that he was this God come down to earth. Invoking words like ‘YHWH’ or even ‘God’ fall short of the reality of a being that defies being, that exists, yet is beyond existence in terms of what we understand to be existence. The eternal ‘I am’ is infinitely different from all else. Lewis stated–

God, in their language, meant the Being outside the world that had made it and was infinitely different from anything else. And when you've grasped that, you will see that what this man said was, quite simply, the most shocking thing that has ever been uttered by human lips.137

For Lewis the actions and words disclose that this Jesus ‘claimed to be, or to be the son of, or to be “one with”, the Something which is at once the awful haunter of nature and the giver of the moral law.’138 We should therefore be shocked at this; we cannot be lulled into treating it lightly. So Lewis was well acquainted with the concept of God, amongst Jesus and his contemporaries, but the wording of his trilemma, within his popular apologetics (but not in his philosophical theology), weakened his argument.

Insanity?

Castigating someone as insane is dangerous and flawed. Did Lewis and Chesterton really understand what they were saying? One person's lunatic is another's seer; wisdom and madness may be merged and confused by cultural stereotypes issuing from highly subjective and ill-founded opinions. Insanity is defined as being in or relating to an unsound state of mind, this may be because someone is deemed extremely foolish or irrational, however it is also used to describe someone who is seriously mentally ill (from the sixteenth century Latin insanus, from in, ‘not’ with sanus, ‘healthy’). Lewis and Chesterton do not attempt a definition of insanity; they simply say that if this man was not God then his confused understanding about himself means he is mad. This is a very questionable use of sanity-insanity. Can anyone truly say that they have no illusions about their identity, no delusions about who and what they are? Is insanity a social disease that affects the accuser and the accused alike?

To delude is simply to believe something that is false. A delusion is an idiosyncratic belief or impression that is not in accordance with generally accepted beliefs about reality. The sweeping generalization amongst scientists and philosophers today that belief in God, or a ‘god’, is delusional may be as flawed as perhaps Lewis's ‘mad’. Can anyone be truly convinced that they are not or never have been deluded? Is belief in God a guarantee of sanity? Some of the worst atrocities committed by the churches down the centuries have been in the name of God by people convinced of their rightness of mind. Lewis was not unaware of the subtle misuse of a classification of insanity. In the context of the ancient Hebrews self-perception as God's chosen people Lewis wrote, ‘Once more it may be madness – a madness congenital to man and oddly fortunate in its results – or it may be revelation’.139

Perhaps Lewis was on safer ground in his use of malus– bad, wicked, or evil. Perhaps any one or any thing that puts itself up in opposition to God is innately evil. Satan the fallen angel attempted to raise himself up as a being to rival God, and in so doing became evil. If Jesus was not God incarnate then, as Liddon wrote, he is by no means good. But even then, perhaps these writers need to define goodness, when, according to the scriptures, only God is good (Mark 10:18 and Luke 18:19, c.f. Psalm 73:1). But whether Lewis invoked insanity or wickedness in the place of malus, the dilemma remains and there hangs eternally an existential question over humanity. In this context, and from an orthodox perspective that can see the popularist ‘Bad, Mad or God’ trilemma as too easy and neat a declaration, N.T. Wright commented that:

The stock answer from within the conservative Christianity which had nurtured me through my teens came from C.S. Lewis: Jesus was either mad, or bad, or he was ‘who he claimed to be.’ Yes, we said, for anyone else to say such things would be either certifiably insane or at least wicked; but, since it was true in Jesus' case, it was neither. There is a sense in which I still believe this, but it is a heavily revised sense and must be struggled for, not lightly won. There are no short-circuited arguments in the kingdom of God.140

VIII. AUT DEUS AUT MALUS HOMO

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. I. INTRODUCTION
  4. II. WHAT DID LEWIS SAY?
  5. III. THE SCRIPTURAL & THEOLOGICAL TRADITION
  6. IV. ‘UNBALANCED LIAR’, ‘POSSESSED’, OR ‘THE GOD OF ISRAEL’: THE JOHANNINE TRILEMMA
  7. V. C.S. LEWIS: TRANSPOSED REALITY OF DIVINE SONSHIP
  8. VI. THE STRUCTURE OF LEWIS'S TRILEMIC ARGUMENT
  9. VII. PROOF … OR A QUESTION, A HUMAN DILEMMA?
  10. VIII. AUT DEUS AUT MALUS HOMO
  11. IX. CONCLUSION

‘Who do you say that I am?’ (Matthew 16:15) This question echoes down the centuries and because of who and what Jesus of Nazareth was and is, it is a question that is highly pertinent to all. However, there is an element in the question where Jesus deliberately leaves the answer open for people to come to their own decision. People must come to understand who he is, hence his pleasure in Peter's realization, ‘Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven’ (Matthew 16:17b) and his questioning to Pilate, ‘Is that your own idea or did others talk to you about me’ (John 18:34). This is existential, primarily because a response is demanded, and that response issues from a krisis in humanity. Each individual must decide and respond to the ontological reality that is and was Jesus. To ignore the question, to ignore Jesus, if confronted by him, is still a response, a decision. If we choose not to decide, then this is a response for which we take responsibility.

Pneumatological Preparation

Recognising Jesus for the Son of God can be argued for through logic; Lewis excelled and enjoyed pressing the case onto people through his trilemma, but does not the recognition come down ultimately to the will of God? Without prevenient pneumatological preparation Lewis's appeal will fall on stony ground, on deaf ears (Luke 10:22 and Matthew 11:25–27). The Son chooses to whom revelation will be imparted. So why did Lewis try to force the issue by framing Jesus' question as a trilemma? Did he try to foreclose the question? In a way what he did was to complement the openness of Jesus' question. Lewis merely raised the profile of the question, brought it to people's attention, perhaps made them see that they cannot dismiss this man as yet another religious teacher or sage, a prophet or guru. But in forcing the question was Lewis contradicting the philosophical ground of his doctrine of revelation, a transpositional ground that was the key at the heart of his work and his understanding of how revelation is imparted?141 In a way, yes. There was no old or new evidence that would foreclose the question. Lewis commented that whilst we can ignore what he termed the ‘up-grading’ that humanity is subject to as a direct result of the incarnation, we can always concentrate on the lower. Therefore–

Men can read the life of our Lord (because it is a human life) as nothing but a human life … Just in the same way scripture can be read as merely human literature. No new discovery, no new method, will ever give a final victory to either interpretation.142

There is therefore something of a dichotomy between Lewis's popular apologetic and his serious philosophical theology – between what Lewis says with subtlety and consideration, reflecting the nuanced wisdom in his academic theological papers about our perception and understanding of revelation on the one hand, as compared to what he then confidently asserts in his popular apologetics where he confronts his readers with the need to make a decision relating to their existence, their life and their relationship with God.

Trilemma or Dilemma?

Is Lewis's proposition really a trilemma, or a simply a dilemma? Does he really advance the proposition beyond a dilemma given that two components (‘mad’ and ‘bad’) are only judgements about the merely human? In essence Jesus' question is primarily still a dilemma. A common assumption of the difference between Islam and Christianity is that the Prophet says ‘Submit’, whereas Jesus says, ‘Decide’. If Lewis's adaptation of aut Deus aut malus homo into a trilemma creates unnecessary confusion, then perhaps it would have been better phrased as a dilemma, an either-or question. Does this make his apologetics irrelevant or wrong? On one level then, yes, phrasing as a dilemma would have been better because this is a personal question addressed to all by Jesus, and when presented as a trilemma people can get embroiled in arguments about the merely human (was he mad or bad, and where do we draw then line, and if bad was he evil …). This draws them away from the stark existential demands of the question about Jesus' ontology. If someone decides Jesus was merely human then it doesn't matter whether they decide if he was delusional and insane, or wicked and evil (especially given that our understanding of humanity and the line between wickedness and insanity is blurred by the Fall). If Jesus is not God incarnate then our subjective opinion doesn't change what he was: was Peter mad or bad when he denied Christ three times? Any decision is subjective and, to a degree, irrelevant. If Jesus was, and is, God incarnate then what we decide about his human nature verges on blasphemy, and perhaps constitutes a contradiction of the third commandment: worship is more important than speculation.

IX. CONCLUSION

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. I. INTRODUCTION
  4. II. WHAT DID LEWIS SAY?
  5. III. THE SCRIPTURAL & THEOLOGICAL TRADITION
  6. IV. ‘UNBALANCED LIAR’, ‘POSSESSED’, OR ‘THE GOD OF ISRAEL’: THE JOHANNINE TRILEMMA
  7. V. C.S. LEWIS: TRANSPOSED REALITY OF DIVINE SONSHIP
  8. VI. THE STRUCTURE OF LEWIS'S TRILEMIC ARGUMENT
  9. VII. PROOF … OR A QUESTION, A HUMAN DILEMMA?
  10. VIII. AUT DEUS AUT MALUS HOMO
  11. IX. CONCLUSION

So, was Lewis's popular apologetic trilemma a failure, an irrelevance, as compared to the basic proposition, aut Deus aut malus homo in his philosophical theology? No, because it generated speculation, it generated discussion; it was – in its controversy – a successful piece of apologetic. Indeed for seventy years it has had people questioning who and what this man Jesus was and is. It has got people questioning the very core of their beliefs. Is this not what was at the heart of Jesus' question to Peter? There are many who will accept the divinity of Christ unquestioningly, who can see without the pain of agnosticism, without intellectual wrestling, that he was and is divine; there are many, however, who reject Jesus' self-disclosure and struggle with the very notion of God coming down to earth to be incarnated in human form. There are many academics of various disciplines and persuasions who want to avoid the question, who want to be impartial, disinterested and seemingly neutral; these are people who, as we have seen, objected to Lewis forcing the issue, of presenting the question as a trilemma. Sir Thomas More's phrasing of aut Deus aut malus homo (‘if he Christ were not God, he would be no good man either’) may have been a more accurate reflection of the question Jesus posed to Peter, likewise Liddon's phrasing of the question as Christus, si non Deus, non bonus is more subtle and nuanced, and falls short of making any subjective, specifically discriminatory, all-encompassing character judgements, but as an apologist Lewis's ‘soundbite’ or ‘slogan’ has faced people with the question in a way that the fine distinctions and more academically restrained and understated propositions from More, Liddon, Hopkins, et al, have not. However, there is the perennial danger of trivializing, thereby reducing aut Deus aut malus homo to something resembling a pop song or an advertising slogan. Ironically, despite two thousand years of theological tradition where the question is phrased as a dilemma, Gerald O'Collins demonstrated that Jesus' question generated a trilemmic response – recorded in John's Gospel. Lewis was therefore justified in developing aut Deus aut malus homo into a trilemma.143 There is therefore good scriptural precedent for phrasing the question about Jesus of Nazareth's identity as a trilemma, but we must always be wary – as Lewis most certainly was – of trivializing the question. As Lewis noted in the context of his trilemma, our response is relative: ‘The real question is not what are we to make of Christ, but what is he to make of us?’144 The pertinent question therefore relates to the action of the resurrected and ascended Christ towards humanity. Whatever our humble opinion about him when he walked the earth, what is of primary importance and precedent will be what Jesus Christ will make of us when we come before him in the last judgement. The dilemma aut Deus aut malus homo is therefore eschatological. Whatever conclusions we come to regarding Jesus Christ the pertinent question is, ‘To what extent does our opinion of this man Jesus affect or have any bearing on our salvation?’ To answer would move the debate out of the question of Lewis's trilemma, and involve much of the anger and frustration, the contradictions of denominationalism, and the dark side of church history: Christians have killed each other over the answer to this question in the past. Lewis is correct, what is important is what Jesus Christ makes of us, but what we assert before our neighbour does have some value for it may assist them in their path before God. They like Lewis, and like us, must decide as they in turn have been decided upon.

For all its perceived faults there are four reasons why Lewis's trilemma was and still is a very successful piece of Christian apologetic: first because it demonstrates that there is a rational basis to Christian doctrine; second, because it does contain the basic either-or question at the heart of the Christian faith; third, because of the attention it has gained – through it Lewis was effectively preaching the Gospel; and, fourth, because so many writers of varying persuasions have sought to repudiate it.

Notes
  1. 1 For example, John Beversluis, C.S. Lewis and the Search for Rational Religion (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 1985), also, A.N. Wilson, C.S. Lewis: a Biography (London: Collins, 1990), and Nicholas F. Gier, God, Reason, and the Evangelicals. The Case against Evangelical Rationalism (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1987).

  2. 2 Stephen T. Davis, ‘Was Jesus Mad, Bad or God?’, in, Christian Philosophical Theology (2nd edition; Oxford: OUP, 2006), pp. 149–171. Quotation from n. 1, p. 149.

  3. 3 G.K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man (Vancouver; Regent College Publishing, 2006 [1925]).

  4. 4 C.S. Lewis, ‘C.S. Lewis to Owen Barfield, August 1939’, in, Collected Letters, Vol. II: Books, Broadcasts and War 19311949 (San Francisco, CA: Harper San Francisco, 2004), pp. 266–269.

  5. 5 Lewis, ‘C.S. Lewis to Mrs Mary Neylan, 26 March 1940’, in, Collected Letters, Vol. II (2004), pp. 371–376, quote, pp. 374–375.

  6. 6 C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain (London: Centenary Press, 1940), pp. 10–11.

  7. 7 C.S. Lewis, Broadcast Talks, The Second Series, What Christians Believe, Third Talk, 3. ‘The Shocking Alternative’, delivered on the BBC Home Service, London, 1 February, 1942, 4:45 to 5:00 pm. Published in, C.S. Lewis, Broadcast Talks. Reprinted with some alterations from two series of Broadcast Talks ‘Right and Wrong: A Clue to the Meaning of the Universe’ and ‘What Christians Believe’ given in 1941 and 1942 (London: Geoffrey Bles, The Centenary Press, 1942).

  8. 8 Lewis, Broadcast Talks (1942), pp. 50–51.

  9. 9 C.S. Lewis, ‘Is Theology Poetry?’ (a paper read to the Socratic Club in Oxford 1944). Published in The Socratic Digest No. 3, 1945. Reprinted in, C.S. Lewis, They Asked for a Paper (London: Geoffrey Bles, 1962), pp. 150–165, quotation, p. 164.

  10. 10 C.S. Lewis, ‘Christian Apologetics’, an address to the Church of England Carmarthen Conference for Youth Leaders and Junior Clergy, Easter 1945. Published in, C.S. Lewis, Undeceptions: Essays on Theology and Ethics (edited by Walter Hooper; London: Geoffrey Bles, 1971 [1945]), pp. 64–76, quotation, pp. 74–75.

  11. 11 See, C.S. Lewis, ‘Modern Theology and Biblical Criticism’, in Christian Reflections (paper read at Westcott House, Cambridge, 11th May 1959; ed. Walter Hooper; London: Geoffrey Bles, 1967.

  12. 12 C.S. Lewis, Miracles. A Preliminary Study (London: Geoffrey Bles, 1947). Reference, Chapter XIV ‘The Grand Miracle’, p 132.

  13. 13 C.S. Lewis, ‘What Are We to Make of Jesus Christ?’, in, Ronal Selby Wright (ed.), Asking Them Questions (third series; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1950), pp. 48–53. A more widely available reprint can be found in, C.S. Lewis, Undeceptions: Essays on Theology and Ethics (edited by Walter Hooper; London: Geoffrey Bles, 1971), pp. 123–127.

  14. 14 Lewis, ‘What Are We to Make of Jesus Christ?’ (1950), pp. 49–50.

  15. 15 Lewis, ‘What Are We to Make of Jesus Christ?’ (1950), pp. 50.

  16. 16 Lewis, ‘What Are We to Make of Jesus Christ?’ (1950), pp. 52.

  17. 17 C.S. Lewis, The Chronicles of Narnia. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (London: Geoffrey Bles, 1950), pp. 44–52.

  18. 18 Lewis, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (1950), p. 47–48.

  19. 19 Lewis, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (1950), p. 49.

  20. 20 C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity. A revised and amplified edition, with a new introduction, of the three books Broadcast Talks, Christian Behaviour and Beyond Personality (based on radio talks of 1941–1944; London: Geoffrey Bles, 1952). Bk. 2, ‘What Christians Believe’, Chp. 3 ‘The Shocking Alternative’, and opening of Chp. 4 ‘The Perfect Penitent’, p. 51–53.

  21. 21 Lewis, Mere Christianity (1952), p. 51–52.

  22. 22 C.S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms (London: Geoffrey Bles, 1958). Reference, p. 117.

  23. 23 C.S. Lewis, ‘The Language of Religion’, in, Christian Reflections (ed. Walter Hooper; London: Fount, 1967 [1960]) pp. 129–141.

  24. 24 Lewis, ‘The Language of Religion’ (1967), pp. 137.

  25. 25 Lewis, ‘The Language of Religion’ (1967), pp. 137.

  26. 26 Lewis, ‘The Language of Religion’ (1967), pp. 137.

  27. 27 Lewis, ‘The Language of Religion’ (1967), pp. 137.

  28. 28 Sherwood E. Wirt and C.S. Lewis, ‘I was Decided Upon’, in, Decision, Vol II (September, 1963), p. 3, and, Sherwood E. Wirt and C.S. Lewis, ‘Heaven, Earth and Outer Space’, in, Decision, Vol II (October, 1963), p. 4. Interviews conducted on 7 May 1963 by Sherwood E. Birt of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. Reprinted together as, ‘Cross-Examination’, in, C.S. Lewis, Undeceptions: Essays on Theology and Ethics (edited by Walter Hooper; London: Geoffrey Bles, 1971), pp. 215–221.

  29. 29 Charles Gore, The Incarnation of the Son of God: being the Bampton Lectures for the Year 1891 (London: J. Murray, 1891), p.257–258. See also, Charles Gore, Dissertations on Subjects Connected with the Incarnation (New York, NY: Charles Scribner's & sons, 1895). Facsimile reprints of both are available from Kessinger Publishing, (Whitefish: MT, 2006 and 2008, respectively).

  30. 30 See, Roberts, Alexander; James Donaldson; Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, The Early Church Fathers: Ante-Nicene Fathers – Translations of the Writings of the Fathers Down to A.D. 325; The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church-First and Second Series (38 Volume Set; Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1979), Vol. 7, pp. 339–360.

  31. 31 ‘Haec dicens Deus fuit, si mentitus non est: si autem mentitus est, non opus Dei omnimodis perfectum’, Maius Victorinus Afer, ‘De Generatione Verbi Divini’ (From the Generation of the Divine Word, c.358AD), in, Jacques-Paul Migne (ed.), Patrologia Latina Vol. 8 (Paris: Apud Garnieri Fratres, 1844), cols. 1019c–1036c, ref. col. 1020. See, for details of this work, F.F. Bruce, ‘Marius Victorinus and His Works’, The Evangelical Quarterly Vol. 18 (1946), pp. 132153. See also: R.P.C. Hanson, The Search for the Christian Doctrine of God. The Arian Controversies 318381AD (new edition; London: Continuum, T&T Clark, 2006 [1988]). See: Chp. 17 The Western Pro-Nicenes III, §1 Marius Victorinus Introduction, and, §2 Marius Victorinus' Christology, esp. pp. 533–556.

  32. 32 Walter Hooper notes this at the end of Lewis's letter to Owen Barfield, August 1939. See, Lewis, ‘C.S. Lewis to Owen Barfield, August 1939’ (2004), pp. 269, n.99. See: Pope Innocent III, De miseria humane conditionis. On the misery of the human condition (Donald R. Howard, ed. trans. Margaret Mary Dietz; series: The Library of Liberal Arts, No. 132; Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1969).

  33. 33 Thomas Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles (written between 1258 and 1264), Bk. 4, Chp. 34, §. 27 (§. 24 in the English trans.): ‘Amplius. Manifestum est quod homo Christus, loquens de se, multa divina dicit et supernaturalia: ut est illud Ioan. 640, ego resuscitabo illum in novissimo die; et Ioan. 1028, ego vitam aeternam do eis. Quod quidem esset summae superbiae, si ille homo loquens non esset secundum hypostasim ipse Deus, sed solum haberet Deum inhabitantem. Hoc autem homini Christo non competit, qui de se dicit, Matth. 1129: discite a me quia mitis sum et humilis corde. Est igitur eadem persona hominis illius et Dei.’ See: Thomas Aquinas, Summa contra Gentiles (trans. Anton C. Pegis, 5 vols.; Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1975 [1955]). My acknowledgement is to Brendan N. Wolfe, a Patristic scholar from Oxford, for introducing me to this source/reference.

  34. 34 For Aquinas on pride and its relation to all other sins, see Summa Theologiae Pt. I–II (Prima Secundae), ‘Treatise on Habits’, in particular Q.84 ‘Of the Cause of Sin’, Article 2 ‘Whether Pride is the Beginning of every Sin?’ See: Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006 [1962–76]).

  35. 35 Dialogue of Comfort is part of More's ‘Tower Works’; it was first published during Queen Mary's reign in 1553 by Richard Tottel. See, Sir Thomas More, Dialogue of Comfort Against Tribulation (ed. and trans. Leland Miles; London: Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1965).

  36. 36 More, Dialogue of Comfort Against Tribulation (1965), Book 3, Chp. XIV, p. 179.

  37. 37 John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Vol. 1 (ed. John T. McNeill; Library of Christian Classics; Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2006 [1960]), Bk. II. Ch. XIII. §. 1, p. 474.

  38. 38 Calvin, Institutes, Vol. 1 (2006), Bk. II. Ch. XII. §. 7, p. 471.

  39. 39 Calvin, Institutes, Vol. 1 (2006), Bk. II. Ch. XIV. §. 2, p. 483.

  40. 40 John Duncan and William Angus Knight, Colloquia Peripatetica. Being Notes of Conversations (Edinburgh: R&R Clark and David Douglas, 1870), p. 109. A facsimile reprint is available from Kessinger Publishing, (Whitefish: MT, 2008).

  41. 41 Duncan and Knight, Colloquia Peripatetica (1870), pp. 96–112.

  42. 42 For example: ‘Aut Christus Deus, aut homo non bonus est’, in, Henry Van Dyke, The Gospel for an Age of Doubt. The Yale Lectures on Preaching, (London: Macmillan, 1896), p.62; also, ‘Christus aut Deus aut homo non bonus’, in, Herbert Vincent Shortgrave Eck, The incarnation (London: Longmans, Green, 1901), p.28; and, ‘Christus aut Deus aut non bonus’, in, Robert L. Ottley, The Doctrine of the incarnation, Vol. 1 (London: Methuen & Co. 1896), p. 69.

  43. 43 Mark Hopkins, Lectures on the Evidences of Christianity, before the Lowell Institute, January, 1844 (Boston: T. R. Marvin, 1856). See, ‘Lecture VIII, The Condition, Character and Claims of Christ’, pp. 227–257.

  44. 44 Hopkins, (1856), p. 229.

  45. 45 Hopkins, (1856), p. 235.

  46. 46 Hopkins, (1856), p. 237–238.

  47. 47 Hopkins, (1856), p. 242.

  48. 48 Hopkins, (1856), p. 247–248.

  49. 49 Hopkins, (1856), p. 251.

  50. 50 Hopkins, (1856), p. 254.

  51. 51 Hopkins, (1856), p. 254.

  52. 52 Henry Parry Liddon, The Divinity of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ: Eight Lectures Preached Before the University of Oxford in the Year 1866, on the Foundation of the Late Revd John Bampton (London: Longmans, Green & Co, 1868), ‘Preface to the Second Edition’, p. xii.

  53. 53 Liddon, The Divinity of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ (1868), ‘Preface to the Second Edition’, pp. xii–xiii.

  54. 54 Liddon, The Divinity of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ (1868), ‘Preface to the Second Edition’, p. xiii.

  55. 55 Liddon, (1868), ‘Lecture IV Our Lord's Divinity as Witnessed by his Consciousness’, pp. 153–208.

  56. 56 Liddon, (1868), p. 155.

  57. 57 Liddon, (1868), p. 156.

  58. 58 Liddon, (1868), p. 158.

  59. 59 Liddon, (1868), p. 162.

  60. 60 Liddon, (1868), pp. 162–163.

  61. 61 Liddon, (1868), p. 163.

  62. 62 Liddon, (1868), p. 163.

  63. 63 Liddon, (1868), pp. 165–166.

  64. 64 Liddon, (1868), p. 167.

  65. 65 Liddon, (1868), p. 169.

  66. 66 Liddon, (1868), p. 169.

  67. 67 Liddon, (1868), pp. 170–171.

  68. 68 Liddon, (1868), pp. 172–176.

  69. 69 Liddon, (1868), p. 175.

  70. 70 Liddon, (1868), p. 177.

  71. 71 Liddon, (1868), p. 177.

  72. 72 Liddon, (1868), pp. 179–181.

  73. 73 Liddon, (1868), p. 183.

  74. 74 Liddon, (1868), p. 185.

  75. 75 Liddon, (1868), p. 188–189.

  76. 76 Liddon, (1868), pp. 186–187.

  77. 77 Liddon, (1868), p. 187.

  78. 78 Liddon, (1868), p. 189.

  79. 79 Liddon, (1868), p. 193.

  80. 80 Liddon, (1868), p. 206.

  81. 81 Liddon, (1868), p. 197–199.

  82. 82 Liddon, (1868), p. 199–201.

  83. 83 Liddon, (1868), p. 195.

  84. 84 Liddon, (1868), p. 198.

  85. 85 Liddon, (1868), p. 199.

  86. 86 Liddon, (1868), p. 205.

  87. 87 Liddon, (1868), p. 206. Liddon acknowledges in a footnote that the source for this wording was derived from, Guizot, Méditations sur l'Essence de la Religjon Chrétienne (Paris, 1864), pp. 324–326. See, M. Francoise Guizot, Meditations on the actual state of Christianity and on the attacks which are now being made upon it (New York: Charles Scribner, 1866).

  88. 88 Liddon, (1868), p. 208.

  89. 89 Liddon, The Divinity of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ (1868), ‘Preface to the Second Edition’, p. xiii.

  90. 90 C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy. The Shape of my Early Life (London: Geoffrey Bles, 1955), p. 166.

  91. 91 Liddon, (1868), p. 167. Lewis commented that, ‘he [Jesus] denied all sin of himself’, Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms (1958), p. 117.

  92. 92 Lewis, Surprised by Joy (1955), p. 216, se also, p. 206.

  93. 93 Lewis, Surprised by Joy (1955), p. 216.

  94. 94 Lewis, Surprised by Joy (1955), p. 216.

  95. 95 Lewis, ‘Christian Apologetics’, (1971 [1945]), pp. 74–75.

  96. 96 Chesterton, The Everlasting Man (2006 [1925]).

  97. 97 Chesterton, (2006), p. 185.

  98. 98 Chesterton, (2006), p. 187–188.

  99. 99 Chesterton, (2006), p. 188.

  100. 100 Chesterton, (2006), p. 188.

  101. 101 Chesterton, (2006), p. 189.

  102. 102 Chesterton, (2006), p. 190.

  103. 103 Chesterton, (2006), p. 193.

  104. 104 Josh McDowell, Evidence Demands a Verdict (San Bernadino, CA: Thomas Nelson Publishing), p.104.

  105. 105 Josh McDowell, A Ready Defence (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1990), Chp. 21 ‘The Trilemma: Lord, Liar or Lunatic?’, pp. 241–245, ref. p. 241. See also, Chp. 22 ‘Is Jesus both Messiah and God’, pp. 246–262.

  106. 106 Reginald H. Fuller and Pheme Perkins, Who Is This Christ? Gospel Christology and Contemporary Faith (Philadelphia, PA: Fortress Press, 1983), p. 24.

  107. 107 Peter Kreeft, Fundamentals of the Faith: Essays in Christian Apologetics (San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 1988). See, Chp. 1 Creed: Fundamentals of Christian Belief, §A. Fundamentals of Christian Apologetics, §8. ‘The Divinity of Christ’, pp. 59–63, ref. p. 60. See also, Peter Kreeft, Between Heaven and Hell: A Dialog Somewhere Beyond Death with John F. Kennedy, C.S. Lewis & Aldous Huxley (second edition; Downers Grove, IL: Inter Varsity Press, 2008 [1982])

  108. 108 Kreeft, (1988), pp. 59–63, p. 60.

  109. 109 Kreeft, (1988), pp. 59–63, p. 61.

  110. 110 Peter Kreeft and Ronald Tacelli, Handbook of Christian Apologetics (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1994), pp. 161–174.

  111. 111 Stephen T. Davis, David Kendall SJ & Gerald O'Collins (eds.), The incarnation. An Interdisciplinary Symposium on the incarnation of the Son of God (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002).

  112. 112 Stephen T. Davis, ‘Was Jesus Mad, Bad or God?’, in, Christian Philosophical Theology (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), pp. 149–171, ref. p. 171.

  113. 113 Gerald O'Collins SJ, Incarnation (New Century Theology; London: Continuum, 2002), see, Chp. 11 ‘The Credibility of the incarnation’, pp. 125–133, ref. pp. 130–131.

  114. 114 See, John Redford, Bad, Mad or God? Proving the Divinity of Christ from John's Gospel (London: St Paul's Publishing, 2004). Also, Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony (Grand Rapids, MI: William B Eerdmans Publishing Co, 2008); and, Thomas Sherlock, The Trial of the Witnesses of the Resurrection of Jesus (New York, NY: Cosimo Classics, 2005); first published in 1729 by SPCK (The Society for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge).

  115. 115 Lewis, Beyond Personality (1944), p. 11.

  116. 116 Lewis, Beyond Personality (1944), p. 28.

  117. 117 Lewis, Beyond Personality (1944), p. 28.

  118. 118 Lewis, Beyond Personality (1944), p. 36.

  119. 119 Lewis, Broadcast Talks (1942), p. 50–51.

  120. 120 Lewis, ‘The Language of Religion’ (1967 [1960]) pp. 137.

  121. 121 See: Lewis, ‘What Are We to Make of Jesus Christ?’, (1950), pp. 48–53, in particular, p. 52. Lewis also uses this doctrine, essentially derived from the work of Athanasius (fourth century) in C.S. Lewis, ‘Transposition’, a sermon given in Mansfield College, Oxford on Whit Sunday, 28 May 1944, in Transposition and Other Addresses (London: Geoffrey Bless, 1949), pp. 9–20. A reworked and extended edition of the sermon as an academic paper was published in, They Asked for a Paper (London: Geoffrey Bles, 1962), pp. 166–182.

  122. 122 See: C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce (London: Macmillan, 1945) where – see specifically Chp. 11, p. 87. Lewis is drawing on, St. Athanasius, The incarnation of the Word. Being the Treatise of St Athanasius, De incarnatione Verbi Dei (trans. Sr Penelope CSMV, intro. C.S. Lewis; London: Geoffrey Bles, The Centenary Press, 1944), Chp. 8, §. 54, p. 93.

  123. 123 C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves (London: Geoffrey Bles, 1960), ‘Introduction’, p. 5.

  124. 124 Lewis, Mere Christianity (1952), Bk. IV, Chp 1, pp. 156–157.

  125. 125 Lewis, Mere Christianity (1952), Bk. III, Chp 12, p. 147.

  126. 126 Lewis, Miracles (London: Geoffrey Bles, 1947)

  127. 127 Lewis, Mere Christianity (1952), Bk. IV, Chp 1, pp. 156–157.

  128. 128 Lewis explicitly refers to Gustaf Aulén, Christus Victor: An Historical Study of the Three Main Types of the Idea of the Atonement (London: SPCK, 1931), see. C.S. Lewis, ‘C.S. Lewis to Corbin Scott Carnell 13 October 1958’, in, Collected Letters, Vol. III: Narnia, Cambridge and Joy 19501963 (San Francisco, CA: Harper San Francisco, 2007), pp. 980.

  129. 129 C.S. Lewis, ‘Transposition’ (1962 [1944]), p. 178.

  130. 130 Wright, ‘Jesus' Self-Understanding’ (2002), p. 53.

  131. 131 Wright, ‘Jesus' Self-Understanding’ (2002), p. 53.

  132. 132 Stephen T. Davis has presented an in-depth examination of the Lewis trilemma in terms of analytical philosophy in, ‘Was Jesus Mad, Bad or God?’, in, Christian Philosophical Theology (2nd edition; Oxford: OUP, 2006), pp. 149–171.

  133. 133 Lewis, ‘Christian Apologetics’ (1971 [1945]), pp. 64–76.

  134. 134 N.T. Wright, The Challenge of Jesus: Rediscovering who Jesus Was and Is (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 1999), p. 98.

  135. 135 N.T. Wright, ‘Simply Lewis: Reflections on a Master Apologist After 60 Years’, in, Touchstone Magazine Vol. 20 No. 2, (March 2007), p. 39–40.

  136. 136 Wright, ‘Simply Lewis: Reflections on a Master Apologist After 60 Years’ (2007), p. 38f. See also, William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1994) who criticizes Lewis for forcing the issue in his trilemma and not leaving other alternatives open.

  137. 137 C.S. Lewis, Broadcast Talks. Reprinted with some alterations from two series of Broadcast Talks ‘Right and Wrong: A Clue to the Meaning of the Universe’ and ‘What Christians Believe’ given in 1941 and 1942 (London: Geoffrey Bles, The Centenary Press, 1942), p. 50.

  138. 138 C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain (London: Geoffrey Bles, 1940), p. 10–11.

  139. 139 Lewis, The Problem of Pain (1940), p. 10.

  140. 140 N.T. Wright, ‘Jesus and the Identity of God’, in, Ex Auditu 14 (1998), pp. 42–56, quotation from. p. 42.

  141. 141 C.S. Lewis, ‘Transposition’ (1949 [1944]), pp. 9–20. For a critical assessment see, P.H. Brazier, ‘C.S. Lewis: A Doctrine of Transposition’, in The Heythrop Journal, Vol. 50 No. 4, (July 2009), pp. 669–688

  142. 142 C.S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms (1958), p. 100.

  143. 143 Gerald O'Collins SJ, Incarnation (New Century Theology; London: Continuum, 2002), pp. 131.

  144. 144 Lewis, ‘What Are We to Make of Jesus Christ?’, (1950), pp. 48–53. A more widely available reprint can be found in, C.S. Lewis, Undeceptions: Essays on Theology and Ethics (edited by Walter Hooper; London: Geoffrey Bles, 1971), pp. 123–127, quotation p. 123.