C. S. Lewis
Clive Staples Lewis (November 29, 1898 - November 22, 1963), commonly referred to as C. S. Lewis, was an author and scholar. He was born in Belfast, Ireland. He adopted the name "Jack", which is how he was known to his friends and acquaintances. He is known for his work on medieval literature and for his Christian apologetics and fiction, especially The Chronicles of Narnia.
History and Background
Career as a scholar
He taught as a fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford for nearly thirty years, and later was the first Professor of Medieval and Renaissance Literature at Cambridge University and a fellow of Magdalene College, Cambridge. Using this position, he argued that there was no such thing as an English renaissance. Much of his scholarly work concentrated on the later Middle Ages, especially its use of allegory. His The Allegory of Love (1936) helped reinvigorate the serious study of late medieval narratives like the Roman de la Rose. Lewis wrote a preface to John Milton's poem Paradise Lost which is still one of the more important critical responses to that work. His last academic publication, The Discarded Image, an Introduction to Medieval and Renaissance Literature (1964), is an excellent summary of the medieval world view, the "discarded image" of the cosmos in his title.
Lewis was a prolific writer and a member of the literary discussion society The Inklings with his close friends J. R. R. Tolkien, Charles Williams, and Owen Barfield.
Career as a writer of fiction
In addition to his scholarly work he wrote a number of popular novels, including the Space Trilogy of science fiction books: Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra (also known by the pulpish title Voyage to Venus), and That Hideous Strength. The trilogy blends traditional science fiction elements with exploration of the Christian themes of sin, fall, and redemption.
The Great Divorce is a short novel about imagined conversations in Heaven between the saved and the damned. In the novel, those who are 'damned' apparently damn themselves, in the sense that nothing prevents them from going to heaven and staying there if they choose. But some find the changes heaven induces threatening or uncomfortable, and so decide to leave. The narrator is chaperoned by the Scottish writer George MacDonald.
Another short novel, The Screwtape Letters, comprises letters of advice from an elderly demon to his nephew. In the letters, Screwtape, the elder demon, instructs his nephew, Wormwood, on the best ways to secure the damnation of a particular human.
The Chronicles of Narnia is a series of seven fantasy novels for children that is by far the most popular of his works. The books have a Christian allegorical theme and describe the adventures of a group of children who visit a magical land called Narnia. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, which was the first published and the most popular book of the series, has been adapted for both stage and screen. The Chronicles of Narnia borrow from Greek and Roman mythology, and traditional English and Irish fairy tales. Lewis cited MacDonald as an influence in writing the series.
Lewis' last novel was Till We Have Faces. Many believe (as he did) that it is his most mature and masterful work of fiction, but it was never a popular success. It is a retelling of the myth of Cupid and Psyche from the unusual perspective of Psyche's sister. It is deeply concerned with religious ideas, but the setting is entirely pagan, and the connections with specific Christian beliefs are left implicit.
Prior to Lewis' conversion to Christianity, he published two books: Spirits in Bondage, a collection of poems, and Dymer, a single narrative poem. Both were published under the pen name of Clive Hamilton.
Career as a writer on Christianity
In addition to his career as an English Professor, and his novels, Lewis also wrote a number of books about Christianity—perhaps most famously, Mere Christianity. As an adult convert to the Anglican church (he stated that he was influenced by Tolkien) he was very much interested in presenting a reasonable case for the truth of Christianity. Mere Christianity, The Problem of Pain, and Miracles were all concerned, to one degree or another, with refuting popular objections to Christianity.
He has become popularly known as The Apostle to the Sceptics, because he originally approached religious belief as a sceptic, and felt that he was converted by the evidence. His books on Christianity, therefore have major themes of dealing with perceived problems in accepting Christianity, such as "How could a good God allow pain to exist in the world", which he examined in detail in his work The Problem of Pain.
He wrote an autobiography entitled Surprised by Joy, which describes his conversion (it was written before he met his wife, Joy Gresham). His essays and public speeches on Christian belief, many of which were collected in God in the Dock and The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses, remain popular today for their insights into faith.
His most famous work, the Chronicles of Narnia, strongly allegorizes to Christianity.
Portrayals of Lewis' life
Recently there has been some interest in biographical material concerning Lewis. This has resulted in several biographies (including books written by close friends of Lewis, among them Roger Lancelyn Green and George Sayer), at least one play about his life, and a 1993 movie, titled Shadowlands, based on an original stage and television play. The movie fictionalizes his relationship with an American writer, Joy Gresham, whom he met and married in London, only to watch her die slowly from bone cancer. Lewis' book A Grief Observed describes his experience of bereavement, and describes it in such a raw and personal fashion that Lewis originally released it under the pseudonym "N. W. Clerk" to keep readers from associating the book with him (ultimately too many friends recommended the book to Lewis as a method for dealing with his own grief, and he made his authorship public).
Lewis' death and legacy
Lewis died on November 22, 1963, at the Oxford home he shared with his brother, Warren ("Warnie"). He is buried in the Headington Quarry Churchyard, Oxford, England. Media coverage of his death was overshadowed by news of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, which occurred on the same day.
Many books have been inspired by Lewis, including A Severe Mercy by his correspondent Sheldon Vanauken, and numerous Narnia-inspired novels by various hands.
An Anonymous Orthodox?
Lewis's Atonement Theology and Soteriology, as well as his understandings of heaven and hell, are very similar to that of the Orthodox and stand opposed to traditional Roman Catholic and Protestant understandings of these matters, leading some to question whether he was an "Anonymous Orthodox." As a Platonist, Lewis also appreciated the Platonism that drives much of Orthodox theology.
Most importantly, of all the traditional theologies, Orthodoxy bears the closest resemblance to the universalism of George MacDonald who C.S. Lewis regarded as his spiritual "master." Lewis himself continually admitted that he owed an overflowing debt to the theology of George MacDonald. Before moving on to the rest of this article, the reader is advised to read "Justice", which is a distillation of MacDonald's theology. If the reader is unfamiliar with this sermon, then what follows will be truly beyond belief.
Of course, Lewis remained an Anglican throughout his life, however, it is significant to note that for more than a century, and all through Lewis' life, the Anglican and Orthodox churches were studying union. The Anglican Church began in the 16th Century by adapting the liturgy of the Celtic (orthodox) church that was introduced when Britain was a Roman province, long before the schism between the Roman West and the Orthodox East. The Orthodox gave up the quest for union in the late 1960's when it became apparent that liberalism, not orthodox theology, would prevail in the Church of England.
Lewis is subtle about revealing the manner in which his theological ideas significantly diverge from the Roman Catholics and the Protestants around him. Much of his theological thought is expressed in allegories and fantasy rather than in religious exposition. Moreover, even in his religious works, he wrote in a colloquial style, avoiding the terminology and jargon of theologians which would be a dead give-away for his Orthodox theology. His work was not to destroy the false, except as it came in the way of building the true. Therefore Lewis sought to speak only what he believed, saying little concerning what he did not believe; trusting in the true to cast out the false, and shunning dispute. But a close reader who is familiar with the fault lines of theological debate will distinctly perceive from what Lewis says and leaves unsaid that Lewis was much more sympathetic to Orthodox theology than he was to standard Roman Catholic and Protestant theology. To get a general sense of these differences, please see Ancestral Versus Original Sin.
In particular, in Mere Christianity, Lewis emphasizes the "Christus Victor" model of Christ's work to the exclusion of the standard Roman Catholic model which holds that Christ was "penalized" by God as a substitute for all those who believe in this theory of penal substitution. Lewis's personal favorite metaphor of the "atonement" was St. Athanasius's "Mystical Theory" which states that what Christ actually did when incarnated was to infuse His deity into humanity, thus giving humanity the thing needed to counteract and overcome the death and impending corruption which were introduced into the human race through Adam. Men who are saved become partakers of this purified humanity. Lewis in Mere Christianity describes this by saying that Christ brought the "Good Infection" that spreads the "Christ-life." This book also describes the operation of St. Maximos's "Vicarious Repentance Theory" of the atonement. In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, we see Lewis's adaptation of St. Gregory of Nyssa's "Fishhook Theory" of the atonement whereby Christ conquers Satan by a divine ruse. Lewis constructed his "Space Trilogy" around Irenaeus's "Recapitulation Theory" of the work of Christ. Throughout his writing career, Lewis illustrated and affirmed each ancient theory of atonement, while conspicuously ignoring the modern western theory which he described as "immoral" and "very silly" in Mere Christianity. C.S. Lewis Explains the Atonement
In Mere Christianity, Lewis also emphasizes the understanding of salvation as deification to the exclusion of the Roman Catholic and Protestant thought that salvation includes being "pardoned," or "justified" by God. Finally, Lewis did not believe in a penal hell, choosing instead the understanding that "hell" is the unfortunate state of mind of a person who has not developed the capacity for love and joy, regardless of their religion (see The Great Divorce and The Problem of Pain). In a parallel fashion, Lewis believed in heaven as the experience of having a heavenly kind of character: "To be the one kind of creature is heaven: that is, it is joy and peace and knowledge and power. To be the other means madness, horror, idiocy, rage, impotence, and eternal loneliness. Each of us at each moment is progressing to the one state or the other." (Mere Christianity) In the entire corpus of Lewis's work, it is impossible to find a statement of belief in "penalties against non-believing sinners" or "penal atonement."
Lewis felt comfortable belonging to the Anglican church because Anglicans, like the Orthodox, but unlike Roman Catholics and Protestants, are allowed to affirm Christus Victor notions of the atonement and to deny that the atonement or hell has penal aspects. As Lewis explains, "Theories about Christ's death are not Christianity: they are explanations about how it works. Christians would not all agree as to how important these theories are. My own church -- the Church of England -- does not lay down any one of them as the right one. The Church of Rome goes a bit further." (Mere Christianity.) (Of course, after Lewis's death, the Roman Catholics have begun to shift their theology of atonement and hell in ways that would have made Lewis more comfortable. See Pope John Paul II's Homily on the Nature of Hell and his statement of the Scandal of the Cross.)
Instead of a belief in divine penalties, Lewis agreed with St. Clement of Alexandria that God's punishment of all sinners is a "wise fire" that delivers sinners from death to life, evil to good, gloom to joy, if only the sinners had the sense and trust to "lay ourselves open" to God's infinite justice. St. Clement of Alexandria speaks the comforting words: "The punishment that God imposes is due not to anger, but to justice, for the neglect of justice contributes nothing to our improvement." In Problem of Pain, Lewis describes divine retribution in similar terms as the painful but salutary process by which God exposes our souls to divine truth. God's justice is "a truly ethical demand that, soon or late, the right should be asserted, the flag planted in this horribly rebellious soul." According to Lewis, a sinner will not be saved from the hell that he is trapped in until he yields himself to God's infinite wrath. This is a very radical notion that Lewis adopts directly from the central thought of his "master" George MacDonald. See George MacDonald. An Anthology (edited by C.S.Lewis).
This paradoxical theology is totally contrary to what most of his modern western audience understands to be the "Christian Gospel" -- to them, the good news is that we can avoid God's punishment by believing that Christ was our penal subsitute. To Lewis, the good news includes the idea that we never needed to be "justified" before our Glad Creator in the first place and the imposition of his wrath brings us heavenly joy. Thus Lewis dares speak directly of this surprising conclusion only in his fantasy literature:
- "If you are thirsty, come and drink." "Are you not thirsty?" said the Lion. "I'm dying of thirst," said Jill. "Then drink," said the Lion. "Will you promise not to—do anything to me, if I do come?" said Jill. "I make no promise," said the Lion. "I daren't come and drink," said Jill. "Then you will die of thirst," said the Lion. "Oh, dear!" said Jill, coming another step nearer. "I suppose I must go and look for another stream then." "There is no other stream," said the Lion. (Silver Chair.)
- Then Hwin, though shaking all over, gave a strange little neigh, and trotted across to the Lion. "Please," she said, "you're so beautiful. You may eat me if you like. I'd sooner be eaten by you then fed by anyone else." "Dearest daughter," said Aslan, planting a lion's kiss on her twitching, velvet nose, "I knew you would not be long in coming to me. Joy shall be yours." (Horse and His Boy.)
When the reader contrasts these two dialogues, the reader sees that Lewis had the greatest admiration for those to whom the doctrines of penal hell and penal atonement are immediately perceived to be palpably untrue and who instead cry exultant to God with a child-heart: ‘Do with me as thou wilt!’ Lewis did not believe that it was possible for Christians to be saved from hell so long as they are successful in their scheme to evade God's justice and wrath. Thus, Lewis believed that Western Christians will be the very last ones to be saved, after the pagans, atheists and agnostics. The last sin that will dissolve as Western Christans enter into the consuming fire of divine love is the sadly misguided theories of penal atonement and penal hell. In the words of Lewis's "master," MacDonald, "He who is true, out and out, will know at once an untruth; and to that vision we must all come. [As for believers in penal atonement and penal hell,] when they see the glory of God, they will see the eternal difference between the false and the true, and not till then."
Fully half of the quotes that Lewis selected to include in his Anthology of George MacDonald's Theology were on this very point -- that God's wrath delivers us from death to life. Lewis tells us in the antroduction to the anthology: "This collection, as I have said, was designed not to revive MacDonald's literary reputation but to spread his religious teaching." "My own debt to this book is almost as great as one man can owe to another: and nearly all serious inquirers to whom I have introduced it acknowledge that it has given them great help-sometimes indispensable help toward the very acceptance of the Christian faith." Lewis then proceeds to quote the theology of MacDonald that he admired:
- When we say that God is Love, do we teach men that their fear of Him is groundless? No. He is against sin: insofar as, and while, they and sin are one, He is against them-against their desires, their aims, their fears, and their hopes; and thus He is altogether and always for them. That thunder and lightning and tempest, that blackness torn with the sound of a trumpet, that visible horror billowed with the voice of words, was all but a faint image of what God thinks and feels against vileness and selfishness, of the unrest of unassuageable repulsion with which He regards such conditions. As much as they fear will come upon them, possibly far more. The wrath will consume what they call themselves; so that the selves God made shall appear. The man whose deeds are evil, fears the burning. But the burning will not come the less that he fears it or denies it. Escape is hopeless. For Love is inexorable. Our God is a consuming fire. He shall not come out till he has paid the uttermost farthing. (George MacDonald: An Anthology.)
This reasoning is identical to that performed by St. Clement of Alexandria one thousand and six hundred years previously:
- "How then", they say, "If the Lord loves man, and is good, is He angry and punishes?" Revenge is returning evil for evil, imposed for the satisfaction of the one taking vengeance, but He would never desire revenge who has taught us to pray for those who calumniate us. The punishment that God imposes is due not to anger, but to justice, for the neglect of justice contributes nothing to our improvement. Many of the passions are cured by punishment. For reproof is, as it were, the surgery of the passions of the soul. Reproach is like application of medicines, dissolving the callousness of the passions, and purging the impurities of the lewdness of life; and in addition, reducing the excrescences of pride, restoring the patient to the healthy and true state of humanity. Therefore, God is good. (St. Clement of Alexandria, "The Tutor.")
Lewis echoed St. Clement of Alexandria in his remarks concerning purgatorial heaven:
- I assume that the process of purification will normally involve suffering. Partly from tradition; partly because most real good that has been done me in this life has involved it. But I don't think the suffering is the purpose of the purgation. I can well believe that people neither much worse nor much better than I will suffer less than I or more. The treatment given will be the one required, whether it hurts little or much. My favorite image on this matter comes from the dentist's chair. I hope that when the tooth of life is drawn and I am 'coming round',' a voice will say, 'Rinse your mouth out with this.' This will be Purgatory. The rinsing may take longer than I can now imagine. The taste of this may be more fiery and astringent than my present sensibility could endure. But it will [not] be disgusting and unhallowed. Mind you, the Reformers had good reasons for throwing doubt on the 'Romish doctrine concerning Purgatory' as that Romish doctrine had then become. (Letters to Malcolm.)
In other words, instead of preaching "Justification by Faith," Lewis implicitly taught a very odd and truly unconventional theology of "Deification by Punishment." In this process, Christians have no privileged position -- if the rituals and beliefs of the religion are not deifying Christians by transforming them with joy, peace, and love, then they are useless: "[T]he Church exists for nothing else but to draw men into Christ, to make them little Christs. If they are not doing that, all the cathedrals, clergy, missions, sermons, even the Bible itself, are simply a waste of time." (Mere Christianity)
In short, Lewis was a universalist in the way that Orthodox Christianity teaches universalism, believing that God loves all his creatures now and throughout eternity, and we experience hell only insofar as, and so long as, we choose not to conform ourselves to Divine Love. Like the Orthodox, Lewis believed that we could repent beyond the grave and we could all hope for (but not predict with certainty) apokatastasis, universal reconciliation of humanity to divine goodness (see The Great Divorce). According to Lewis, a human is not required to accept any particular religious beliefs or doctrine in order to be "saved," (ie. in order to turn from gloom to joy). In fact, the Western doctrines of "Justification by Faith" can only serve to retard a Christian's salvation. A brilliant article on this matter is is Reason, Imagination, and Universalism in C. S. Lewis
The late Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, a respected Calvinist theologian opined in Christianity Today, Dec. 20, 1963, that C.S. Lewis's view of salvation was "defective" because Lewis "was an opponent of the substitutionary and penal theory of the Atonement." Lloyd-Jones would have the very same criticism of Orthodox theology as represented by such theologians as Vladimir Lossky and Christos Yannaras. The Protestant and Roman Catholic penal theory of the atonement and its associated understanding of a penal hell is denied by the Orthodox and C.S. Lewis. See "Heaven & Hell in the Afterlife, According to the Bible."
Several other evangelicals became cognizant that Lewis's approach was radically different from theirs: A. N. Wilson asserted: "If the mark of a reborn evangelical is a devotion to the Epistles of Paul and, in particular, to the doctrine of Justification by Faith, then there can have been few Christian converts less evangelical than Lewis." J. I. Packer complained of Lewis’s "failure ever to mention justification by faith when speaking of the forgiveness of sins." Orthodoxy does not believe in "Justification by Faith" in the sense spoken of by these men. The Greek term for justification (dikaiosunee) is not understood by Eastern theologians to mean being pardoned of one's sins. This justice is understood as applying to the concepts of actual (rather than imputed) righteousness, virtue, and morality. See the popular lecture "The River of Fire." See also On The Nature Of Heaven And Hell According To The Holy Fathers.
Certain Protestants who begin to get a sense of what Lewis was saying boldly declare that Lewis will be damned for his universalist theological tinkering. See Did CS Lewis Go to Heaven? See also "C.S. Lewis: The Devil's Wisest Fool." Of course, as we have seen, Lewis would have welcomed being plunged into the divine fire because he trusted it to be purgatorial rather than penal. Other Protestants who begin to understand Lewis express gratitude for his presentation of a new way of thinking about Christianity. See Evangelical Megashift, and Real Christianity A Family or Court Room?
Lewis had occasion to visit Greece and visit Orthodox churches there. C.S. Lewis has been quoted as saying that of all the liturgies he'd ever attended, Lewis preferred the Greek Orthodox liturgy to anything that he had seen in the West, Protestant or Roman Catholic. Lewis also claimed that of all the priests and monks that he had ever had the opportunity to meet, the Orthodox priests were the holiest, most spiritual men he had ever met.
Lewis was also a sacramentalist, stating in Mere Christianity that: "There are three things that spread the Christ-life to us: baptism, belief, and that mysterious action which different Christians call by different names -- Holy Communion, the Mass, the Lord's Supper." Lewis said prayers for the dead, believed in the physical presence of Christ’s body and blood in the bread and wine, and practiced and taught auricular confession.
In short, it is very fair to describe Lewis as a "stealth Orthodox" -- his official allegiance lay with the Church of England, but his sympathies lay with the Orthodox. The most thoughtful study of Lewis' relationship to Orthodoxy was written by Bishop Kallistos Ware of Diokleia, who also teaches at Oxford. In an article published in Sobornost (an Anglican-Orthodox Ecumenical magazine) entitled "C.S. Lewis: an 'Anonymous Orthodox'?" he explores this fascinating question. He humbly relates that Lewis has a tendency to "idealize us Orthodox," and affirms that "even though C.S. Lewis' personal contacts with the Orthodox Church were not extensive at the same time his thinking is often profoundly in harmony with the Orthodox standpoint."
Till We Have Faces
- "Nothing is yet in its true form."
From On Stories
- "...one of the main things the author wants to say is that the real life of men is of that mythical and heroic quality."
- - p. 89 in "Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings."
- "...the imagined beings have their insides on the outside; they are visible souls." - ibid. (?)
- "The Value of myth is that it takes all the things you know and restores to them the rich significane which has been hidden by the veil of familiarity." - p. 90
- "...we do not retreat from reality, we rediscover it. As long as the story lingers in our mind, the real things are more themselves... By dipping them in myth we see them more clearly." - ibid. (?)
More quotes at: Wikiquote:C. S. Lewis
- The Pilgrim's Regress
- Out of the Silent Planet (1938)
- The Screwtape Letters (1942)
- Perelandra (1943)
- The Great Divorce (1945)
- That Hideous Strength (1946)
- The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (1950)
- Prince Caspian (1951)
- The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (1952)
- The Silver Chair (1953)
- The Horse and His Boy (1954)
- The Magician's Nephew (1955)
- Till We Have Faces (1956)
- The Last Battle (1956)
- Prayer: Letters to Malcolm (1963)
- The Allegory of Love (1936)
- The Problem of Pain (1940)
- The Abolition of Man (1943)
- Mere Christianity (1952, based on radio broadcasts of [943)
- English Literature In the Sixteenth Century Excluding Drama (1954)
- Reflections on the Psalms (1958)
- Studies in Words (1960)
- The Four Loves (1960)
- A Grief Observed (initially published under the pseudonym "N. W. Clerk") (1961)
- Surprised by Joy (Autobiography)
- The Discarded Image
- The Weight of Glory, and Other Addresses
- They Asked for a Paper
Books about C. S. Lewis
- Joseph Pearce, C. S. Lewis and the Catholic Church, Ignatius Press, 2003 (ISBN 0898709792)
- Clyde Kilby, Jack
- Kathryn Lindskoog, Light in the Shadowlands
- ...and many more...'
- Shadowlands (British Version)
- Shadowlands (American Version)
- Into the Wardrobe: a Web site devoted to C. S. Lewis
- In Lenten Lands
- PBS | The Question of God A look at the lives of C.S. Lewis and of Sigmund Freud, analyzing the "question of God"
- C.S. Lewis: 20th-Century Christian Knight
- C.S. Lewis Chronicles A Compendium of Information about Lewis
- The alt.books.cs-lewis FAQ
- C.S. Lewis Classics a website by HarperCollins Publishers
- C.S. Lewis on ISFDB