• Devin O'Donnell

Seeing through a glass, darkly: Love, Knowledge, and the Face in Till We Have Faces

We are perhaps all familiar with St. Paul's "Ode to Love" in 1 Corinthians 13. We may be less familiar, however, with the relation that love bears to knowledge. Paul writes:

Charity [love] never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away. When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.

The Greek here (ρόσωπον πρὸς πρόσωπον) is literally, "face to face." If this is not in some measure the origin of Lewis' title (and meaning of the of the book), I don't know what is. The order of Paul's discourse on love (agapé) suggests a syntax of reasoning.

First, he establishes that love "believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things" (v. 7). Love will not fail, he says further, enduring into a final state of "perfection" or "completion" (telios) which is yet to come. It is in light of this that Paul then moves into the realm of epistemology and of how we know reality. Thus, he moves from "love" to "knowledge," a fascinating relation. Right now, we know "in part" and can only prophecy "in part." But there is a time where we will know completely and be known completely. A father, for instance, might possess more knowledge of his son than his son possesses of himself, precisely because the father LOVES his son in a way that is more complete than his son's understanding of himself. Finally (v. 12), Paul concludes with one of the finest lines in literature:

"For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known."

In the first part of this "trim sentence," he uses key metaphors: "seeing" for "knowing"; the "darkened glass" or "mirror" to mean our mortal, incomplete sight of the world, ourselves, reality. Paul also seems to suggest along with Lewis that the "face" indicates our identity, that is, our true and unmasked self. If the first part of Paul's sentence is poetical and "obscure", the second part is clear and logical. Paul explains that now—that is, while we live in the mortal body—our knowledge is imperfect and incomplete, but then—when our love has reached maturity and the state of fulfillment—our knowledge will be complete.

For Orual, complete knowledge means knowledge of the truth. This includes knowledge of gods, herself, Psyche, the Fox, the Priest, everything. This knowledge is not a rationalistic or "materialistic" knowledge of the universe; it is what we might call a poetic or "sacramental" knowledge of reality. In her final vision, the Fox declares,

I never told her why the old Priest got something from the dark House that I never got from my trim sentences. She never asked me (I was content she shouldn't ask) why the people got something from the shapeless stone which no one ever got from that painted doll of Arnom's. Of course, I didn't know; but I never told her I didn't know.

This "something from the dark" is the mystery of faith. For the rituals of the priest mediate ultimate reality; they communicate divine truth through material things. Recall that the job of the pagan priest is no different than that of the Christian one: to be a mediator between the gods and men. For the Christian, Jesus fulfills the office of High Priest, the only perfect mediator between God and man, Thus, old priest knew that something happened in sacred things, something was communicated, through the material elements of the world.

The world is charged with the grandeur of God. We need only have faith to see it. Modern Man is Orual, and is in desperate need of a mythology to bring him back to vision not only of his Creator but also of his true self and his purpose as a creature made in the divine image. This is the secret meaning of Psyche's transformation. It's also the secret meaning of Orual's as well. She is given revelation, "visions" of the truth, sacramental experiences where, as the Fox quotes Old Priest, "Men, and gods, flow in and out and mingle."

Lord, give us eyes to see.

Agenda for Wednesday:

  1. Prayer & Catechism

  2. Handout Bible worksheets, TWHF Study Guides

  3. Check Questions & Answers for Till We Have Faces

  4. Harkness Discussion

  5. Using the 5 questions you have, discuss and/or debate the remainder of TWHF

  6. Dig Deep 2 – Finish book by end of this week


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

  2. Till We Have Faces Study Guide – due 11/17

  3. Dig Deep 2 – finish reading Four Loves by end of this week (11/18)

  4. Memorize Poetry Out Loud (POL) selections

  5. POL Recitation 1 – due next week (11/12)

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

  7. 12 line Imitation due Wednesday (12/1)


Consider the eyes of Christ. Do you see yourself as he sees you?

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