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?
C.S. Lewis is much loved by many Orthodox Christians who often raise the question, "Was C.S. Lewis 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. As a Platonist, Lewis also appreciated the Platonism that drives much of Orthodox theology. Lewis frequently quoted Orthodox theologians in his works, and wrote a brilliant introduction to St. Athanasius's "On the Incarnation"—a foundational piece of Orthodox theology.
Additionally, of all the Christian theologies, Orthodoxy bears the closest resemblance to the universalism of George MacDonald whom C.S. Lewis regarded as his spiritual "master." "Justice" is a distillation of MacDonald's theology and an intense reaction against Augustinianism and Calvinism (a reaction echoed by the Orthodox).
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 1960s when it became apparent that liberalism, not orthodox theology, would prevail in the Church of England.
C.S. Lewis believed in "Christus Victor" notions of the atonement, and we see these motifs repeated throughout his works. For example, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was fashioned around St. Gregory of Nyssa's "Fishhook" theory of atonement which taught that Christ defeated Satan by a divine ruse. Lewis was an opponent of an idea of a "penal hell," or a "penal atonement," instead adopting the idea that hell and heaven are states of mind. "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)
Lewis denied "Justification by Faith" in his soteriology, instead adopting a radically contrary soteriology which can best be described as "Invigoration by Punishment." In this sense, he shared a view with such other Platonists as St. Clement of Alexandria, Origen, and St. Gregory of Nyssa. Lewis was quite open to the idea of apokatastasis, but, in The Great Divorce admitted the Orthodox conclusion that the question cannot be answered without presupposing a limitation on human freedom to resist being conformed to Divine Love. Lewis was, however, a universalist in the sense that he did not believe that one had to believe in the Holy Trinity or accept the theology of "Justification by Faith" or "Penal Atonement" in order to progress from death to life.
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. See "Heaven & Hell in the Afterlife, According to the Bible". See also On The Nature Of Heaven And Hell According To The Holy Fathers.
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." Orthodox Christianity does not teach "Justification by Faith" in the sense spoken of by these men. See the popular lecture "The River of Fire."
Certain Protestants who begin to get a sense of what Lewis was saying boldly declare that Lewis will be damned for his theological tinkering. (See Did CS Lewis Go to Heaven?, "C.S. Lewis: The Devil's Wisest Fool", and Biblical Discernment Ministries.) Lewis, however, 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,Real Christianity A Family or Court Room?, The Lost Message of Jesus.
This will likely be a pressing issue that Christendom will have to address within the next Century, as the internet makes it very easy for the Orthodox to speak with the Protestants. Likely, C.S. Lewis's name will come up again and again in this dialogue.
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 an "Anonymous 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