A Whole Post on One Word


To close out War In Heaven Week, I am offering you an entire post about one word. The word is “Naturally.” It stands out to me in the following paragraph. This occurs when Kenneth Mornington is at home after the body was found in his friend’s office. He is trying to decide whether to go on with some trifling volunteer work he had taken on, and finds his mind obsessed with the memory of the murdered corpse:

Mornington had on various occasions argued with Lionel whether pessimism was always the result of a too romantic, even a too sentimental, view of the world; and a slightly scornful mind pointed out to him, while he ate a solitary meal in his rooms that evening, that the shock which he undoubtedly had felt was the result of not expecting people to murder other people. “Whereas they naturally do,” he said to himself. “The normal thing with an unpleasant intrusion is to try and exclude it—human or not. So silly not to be prepared for these things. Some people, as De Quincey said, have a natural aptitude for being murdered. To kill or to be killed is a perfectly reasonable thing. And I will not let it stop me taking those lists round to the Vicar’s.”

I commented in a previous post that the Archdeacon has a shockingly cavalier attitude towards murder, and on a first reading, this quote seems to indicate much the same attitude on Mornington’s part. However, a close reading reveals a very precise theological meaning to these sentences: “the shock which he undoubtedly had felt was the result of not expecting people to murder other people. Whereas they naturally do.”

People in their natural state do murder one another. It is only people who have submitted themselves to the supernatural who do not.

So I took a few minutes to look up “Nature” in C. S. Lewis’s Study in Words, and to do a word-search through the full texts I have of CW’s novels and Arthuriad. Here are some thoughts.

In his chapter on “Nature,” CSL takes the reader through several root-words and meanings of “Nature.” The first is “sort, kind, quality, or character.” One of its roots, “kind,” can also mean “progeny, offspring.” Another is “Any behaviour or state which shows a thing’s, or a person’s, kind or nature.” This is a bit closer to how CW uses it here. Sometimes it can mean almost the opposite of how CW uses it: “the proper, the fitting, the desirable” or even “duteous” or “affectionate.” Then there’s another root, which means something like “inhabit, live (at), dwell, remain.” Finally, it came to mean, essentially, everything: all created stuff, all the world besides humans, our environment: Nature with a capital-N. Lewis goes through all kinds of interesting history and analysis of uses of this word and its root-words, finally coming to the Christian usage that nature “is now both distinct from God and also related to him as artifact to artist.” Then in the Middle Ages, “nature” was relegated to only those created things and beings within the sublunary sphere—below the Moon. This might not sound important, but it is of vital importance for understanding CW’s usage here. CSL finally gets around to talking about Nature and Grace: a conception of “human nature” as “the given which ought to be conquered and whose persistence is therefore bad.” Humans are in a condition—a natural condition—grievously afflicted by The Fall, and need to be saved from their natural—i.e., Fallen—state.

And so in the CW quote in War in Heaven, Mornington is talking about fallen nature: naturally, in our unregenerate condition, we murder one another.

Here are a few interesting quotations from other parts of his work, not meant in the least to be comprehensive.

There are two moments in The Place of the Lion that appear to have an identical usage:

Religions and butterflies were necessary hobbies, no doubt, for some people who knew nothing about scholarship, but they would not be of the smallest use to Damaris Tighe, and therefore, as far as possible, Damaris Tighe very naturally left them out of her life.

Later, Damaris accuses Anthony: “Of course, if you think more of yourself than of me—a” and: “Well, naturally I do,” Anthony interrupted. “Who doesn’t? Am I a saint or an Alexandrian Gnostic? Don’t let’s ask rhetorical questions, darling.”

And here’s another similar one from Many Dimensions: Chloe made “a muddled prayer to the Stone—since, being a modern normally emotional girl she was, quite naturally, an idolater—.”

And yet of course there are places where “natural” has a very positive connotation, such as in All Hallow’s Eve: when the narrator tells the reader that “Docility and sweetness were natural” to Betty.

And finally, in “Prayers of the Pope,” the final spiritual healing means a re-union of the natural and the supernatural:

no wise their supernatural parts sundered
from their natural hearts; little shall those hearts suffer—
so much shall the healing metaphysic have power upon them—

So CW was well aware of the complex and varied meanings of “Natural,” and used them to good effect in his writing. I hope this post serves as a reminder to me to pay close attention to the words he uses when he uses them with care.

About Sørina Higgins

Sørina Higgins is a PhD student in English and Presidential Scholar at Baylor University. She also serves as Chair of the Language and Literature Department at Signum University, online. Her latest publication is an academic essay collection on "The Inklings and King Arthur" (Apocryphile Press, December 2017). Her interests include British Modernism, the Inklings, Arthuriana, theatre, and magic. She holds an M.A. from Middlebury College’s Bread Loaf School of English. Sørina blogs about British poet Charles Williams at The Oddest Inkling, wrote the introduction to a new edition of Williams’s "Taliessin through Logres" (Apocryphile, 2016), and edited Williams’s "The Chapel of the Thorn" (Apocryphile, 2014). As a creative writer, Sørina has published two books of poetry, "The Significance of Swans" (2007) and "Caduceus" (2012).
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6 Responses to A Whole Post on One Word

  1. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    An exciting post embarking upon C.W.’s awareness and uses of “of the complex and varied meanings of ‘Natural,’ ” and opening upon some giddy vistas, too. The COD (ed.2, published in 1929 between C.W.’s drafting of the novel and its appearance) notes of the adverb ‘naturally’ that it is especially used in the sense “as might be expected, of course”. Lewis notes that the Latin “Naturaliter did not mean ‘of course’, as ‘naturally’ and naturellement often do” and discusses how this sense “so strangely remote from other senses of ‘naturally’ ” may show Germanic influence (both Anglo-Saxon and Frankish) on Latin form.

    Also published between C.W.’s drafting the novel and its appearance, is Dorothy L. Sayers’s third Wimsey novel, Unnatural Death (1927). What seemed a death by ‘natural causes’ (cancer) is suspected of being ‘unnatural’: deliberate murder.

    “OF Mans First Disobedience, and the Fruit / Of that Forbidden Tree, whose mortal tast / Brought Death into the World, and all our woe,” begins Milton’s Paradise Lost. As you say, “Humans are in a condition […] grievously afflicted by The Fall”, characterized by disease, death, sin, all of which are ‘unnatural’ in terms of God’s good creation. But should this ‘unnatural condition’ be called a “natural condition” or “natural state”, however much it “might be expected”? Here are some giddy vistas, of Christian theological battle grounds!

    Interesting in this context is the characterization (with respect to Mornington) in the paragraph after the one you quote, of Christianity as “a religion which enabled him to despise himself and everyone else without despising the universe”. This would seem to include despising willful human sinfulness, but not created goodness. But here is another word used with care by C.W. (Spoiler alert!) For Dmitri later says, “If that other had not despised us, I do not know whether I should have won.” Does Kenneth go beyond properly hating the sin and the willful sinfulness embracing it, to a degree of improperly hating the sinner?

    Another word chosen with care struck me for the first time, while rereading during your thought-provoking War in Heaven week. Two more paragraphs along from the one you quote, Mornington’s Vicar at St. Cyprian’s * (who had a “similar standpoint” about “despising”!), introducing him to his guest, Davenant, says, “What a dreadful business this is at your office!” And the next paragraph reads:

    Mornington saluted the Archdeacon, who took off his eye-glass and bowed back. ‘Dreadful,’ he said, tentatively Mornington thought; rather as if he wasn’t quite sure what the other wanted him to say, and was anxious to accommodate himself to what was expected. ‘Yes, dreadful!’

    But just how ‘full of dread’ is the “business”, in what sense, and why? Lionel is someone ‘full of dread’ most of the time, three paragraphs before the one you quote, thinking, “What mightn’t be true, in this terrifying and obscene universe?”

    All the way at the end of the book, learning from Prester John that Gregory is, “on his own confession”, a murderer, Barbara says, “What a dreadful thing!”, to which he asks, “Do you really think so […]?” And she answers, “No”, explaining, “somehow I don’t feel surprised.” Should the fact of someone (to whom you had entrusted your child!) turning out to be a murderer not fill you with dread? She continues, “Since I met you, I haven’t felt quite the same about Mr. Persimmons.” It seems her experience of John has freed her somehow from her deception by Gregory’s false appearance of generosity, true concern for others, etc. Is she now in danger of the wrong kind or degree of ‘despising’? Williams follows with another careful use of language: ” ‘You may feel the same now,’ Prester John answered”. She can think well of him in a proper way, now, as apparently his “confession” arises from a real change of heart. In his last conversation with Barbara before this, John had said, “I know Mr. Persimmons, and he will know me better soon.” It would seem this has been richly fulfilled.

    * What is it about C.W. and ‘St. Cyprian’? First, The Chapel of the Thorn, now, here?


  2. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    I wonder if, in this case, C.W. was thinking of an actual Church, St. Cyprian’s, Clarence Gate (as it happens, quite near the Sherlock Holmes Museum in Baker Street)? (There’s a Wikipedia article about it, a with link to the parish website – which, in turn, includes a detailed early history – though nothing about who was vicar in 1926 or 1930! – and a link to lots of photos.)


  3. Alice Degan says:

    “People in their natural state do murder one another. It is only people who have submitted themselves to the supernatural who do not.”

    Though it depends very much which type of supernatural power you bow to (cf. Gregory Persimmons).


  4. Dmitry Medvedev says:

    In his essay “Natural Goodness” CW wrote:

    “Vigil, heroism, martyrdom, vicarious life, are common to man. In so far as they are possible outside the Church, they are elements of man’s original nature operative within him in spite of, but under conditions of, the catastrophe of the Fall. In so far as they are impossible inside the Church, they are the change in man’s fallen nature which even grace has not yet renewed. Nature and grace are categories of one Identity.”

    “The will of man sinned. But the will of man was a spiritual quality; it was in his soul. It was that power in him which we call the soul that sinned. It was not the power which we call the flesh. It was therefore the” supernatural” which sinned. The “natural”, as we now call it, did not.”

    This is almost the opposite of Mornington’s thoughts and CSL’s remarks. Go figure.


    • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

      Very good quotations to bring to bear! Before rereading the essay – just (aspiring to be!) thinking out loud… “It was therefore the ‘supernatural’ which sinned. The ‘natural’, as we now call it, did not.” But that “as we now call it” whether that “now” is the age (and locus) of antique Platonism, or of various Gnosticisms, or of Manichaeism, or of seventh-century Monothelitism, or of various points in the histories of Hinduism and Buddhism, or of Nineteenth- and Twentieth- (and indeed Twenty-first-)century Western thought, is a mis-calling in terms of orthodox Christian theological anthropology, which sees ‘human nature’ as including (to quote St. Paul in 1 Thessalonians 5:23 [KJV]) “your whole spirit and soul and body”. While there might be a fall of something like ‘that which we call the soul’ quite apart from ‘that which we call the flesh’ – the Fall of some angels (seen as ‘bodiless powers’) being the classic example – the Fall of Man was not a Fall apart from the body (whatever speculations about the character of the unfallen human body may be orthodoxly entertained), it was ineluctably as (and through being) the ‘bodily creature’ Man is, that Man was successfully tempted, though “the will of man [… as] a spiritual quality” of that ‘whole bodily creature’ was (by definition!) decisive in succumbing to temptation.

      I don’t suppose Williams is here meaning to reject the ‘Athanasian’ characterization of Man (including Jesus Christ as “Perfect Man”) as “of a reasonable soul and human flesh consisting”. Nor do I suppose he is propounding some heresy of the Fall of human “spirit” away from ever-innocent “flesh” with which it was (and is), as it were, ‘hypostatically united’. I take it he is correcting any sort of ‘spiritualization’ which falsely separates and stigmatizes the body while imagining an innocent victimized ‘spirit’.

      I think Mornington, in (as I take it) despising himself and everyone else as willful sinners while not despising the universe as good creation “in spite of, but under conditions of, the catastrophe of the Fall”, is close to Williams position as you quote it.


      • Dmitry Medvedev says:

        Yes, it is somewhat close in the sense that they both would agree that natural vice (as a result of the fallen nature) exists, as well as natural virtue (as a result of the original nature). But still, the emphasis is quite different. In that essay Williams sounds much more optimistic than Mornington, and he is certainly not despising anyone.


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