• Devin O'Donnell

Late have I loved you, O Lord: Orual, Job, and Augustine

The knowledge Orual is given is not a gnostic "secret" or "special" knowledge. Nor is her epistemological transformation an initiation into a special mystery. She simply sees the truth. Revelation naturally reorients our metaphysics. The problem is that Truth (the "unconcealed" knowledge of the world) is hidden from Orual by virtue of what is in her, not the world. It is not the case with Psyche, however; it is the quality of Psyche's love, which animates not only her physical sight but also her imagination, her inner eyes, which increasingly become more able to see the divine things that are concealed from her sister. In other words, Orual's inability to see is a result of her own faulty worldview, of her materialism (lack of love is a metaphysics of doubt).

Literary critic Peter J. Schakel notes, "Orual's inability to see the palace derives from the philosophical system she learned from the Fox," and the Stoic materialism comprising his worldview. Schakel quotes an essay by C. S. Lewis originally called, "Carry On Christian Spaceman" (published posthumously as "The Seeing Eye"). "To know God, he writes, requires a 'certain faculty of recognition.' One must be a certain sort of person—one must believe, in other words—in order to see" (172). Lewis argues,

If you do not at all know God, of course, you will not recognize Him, either in Jesus or in outer space.

In other words, a bit presuppositional epistemology will tell us that if we doubt God's existence on earth, searching the heavens for signs of Him will prove a vain exercise. We've already made up his mind.

Thus, Orual learns the hard way about how to truly see. So complete is the knowledge she gains that it brings the responsibility of transformation in her character. Book II of her book sounds like a different Orual altogether, and her last passage sounds almost as if someone else had penned it:

I ended my first book with the words no answer. I know now, Lord, why you utter no answer. You are yourself the answer. Before your face questions die away. What other answer would suffice? Only words, words; to be led out to battle against other words. Long did I hate you, long did I fear you. I might—

One thinks of the final resolution to the Book of Job, a man of suffering whose case was finally heard by the Whirlwind. Instead of "answering" Job, the Lord asks questions of Job, quickly displaying his own incomplete knowledge of himself and the world.

But there is also the confessional nature of this last paragraph, indicating that the once Stoic materialist Orual has had a complete "conversion" to a spiritual and sacramental understanding of the world, such that even her tone has taken on the disposition of a humble and pious supplicant. Orual is like that pious woman whom she once observed with a jaundiced eye, praying in the house of Ungit:

"Has Ungit comforted you, child?" I asked.

"Oh yes, Queen," said the woman, her face almost brightening, "Oh yes. Ungit has given me great comfort. There's no goddess like Ungit."

"Do you always pray to that Ungit," said I (nodding toward the shapeless stone), "and not to that?" Here I nodded towards our new image, standing tall and straight in her robes and (whatever the Fox might say of it) the loveliest thing our land has ever seen.

"Oh, always this, Queen," said she. "That other, the Greek Ungit, she wouldn't understand my speech. She's only for nobles and learned men. There's no comfort in her."

Orual, now given the true sight and understanding, finds her own "comfort" and consolation in the true God. The evidence is the gratitude expressed in her final confession. One thinks of Augustine's Confessions. Recall St. Augustine's account of his coming to faith and true knowledge. Consider the similar language of agreement with the Lord:

Late have I loved you, beauty so old and so new: late have I loved you. And see, you were within and I was in the external world and sought you there, and in my unlovely state I plunged into those lovely created things which you made. You were with me, and I was not with you. The lovely things kept me far from you, though if they did not have their existence in you, they had no existence at all. You called and cried out loud and shattered my deafness. You were radiant and resplendent, you put to flight my blindness. You were fragrant, and I drew in my breath and now pant after you. I tasted you, and I feel but hunger and thirst for you. You touched me, and I am set on fire to attain the peace which is yours. (Book X, xxvii)

Perhaps the logic of Orual's conversion can summarized in the anti-rationalist statement by St. Anselm: "Neque enim quaero intelligere ut credam, sed credo ut intelligam," that is,"I do not seek to understand in order that I may believe, but rather, I believe in order that I may understand." (He get his from Augustine, not surprisingly). This is what Psyche possessed, in the beauty in her face and the quality of being in her eyes, what Orual lacked from the beginning. And this is what Orual is granted, though late in her life.


Traditio Agenda for Thursday:

  1. Prayer & Catechism

  2. Review Harkness discussion

  3. Work on Bible Observation worksheets

  4. Review and discuss TWHF Study Guide

  5. Note Oral Exam on TWHF changed to after the break (11/29)

  6. Read Dig Deep 2 – Finish Four Loves by end of this week

  7. Narrative Twist: Four Slants & Four Modes

  8. Read & discuss assignment

  9. Focus on POL memorization


  1. Be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect. Pray, that you may not stumble.

  2. Till We Have Faces Study Guide – Oral Exam due 11/29

  3. Dig Deep 2 – finish reading Four Loves by end of this week (11/19)

  4. Narrative Twist Written Assignment – due 12/1

  5. Memorize Poetry Out Loud (POL) selections

  6. POL Recitation 1 – due next week (11/29)

  7. 12 line Imitation due Wednesday (12/8)


In this season of Thanksgiving, consider the "praying hands" of Dürer, a cliché image now but one that often represents gratitude.

DÜRER, Albrecht Study of an Apostle's Hands (Praying Hands) c. 1508 Brush drawing on blue primed paper, Graphische Sammlung Albertina, Vienna

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