C.S. Lewis's Views on Purgatory

C. S. Lewis, his worlds, and his faith.

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C.S. Lewis's Views on Purgatory

Postby The Rose-Tree Dryad » Jul 06, 2014 4:42 pm

I was looking at lectures on YouTube the other day and ran across a talk about C.S. Lewis's views on purgatory by Jerry Walls, a professor of philosophy. (I don't know very much about him, but I'm familiar with his name.)

I thought it was a very interesting lecture and concept, and I was wondering what NarniaWebbers (especially those of you who are very familiar with C.S. Lewis's theology) thought about the general idea and Lewis's views on it in particular, as well as how it may relate to aspects of his fictional works.

If you don't have the time or energy to listen to the hour-long lecture, this article, written from an Evangelical perspective, does a reasonably good job of summarizing Lewis's views, at least in terms of how Walls presented them.
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Re: C.S. Lewis's Views on Purgatory

Postby coracle » Jul 09, 2014 2:35 am

All that I remember is that he comments somewhere, that when the tooth of life is drawn, there may be someone standing there with a glass of something, saying "here, rinse with this".
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Re: C.S. Lewis's Views on Purgatory

Postby The Rose-Tree Dryad » Jul 30, 2014 2:38 pm

I think I found that quote, coracle... according to Google, it's from chapter twenty of Letters to Malcolm:

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 More and Fisher shall not persuade me that it will be disgusting and unhallowed.


(It occurs to me that I have hardly any idea of who More and Fisher are. More Googling will follow. ;)))

Something that's very interesting in light of Lewis's beliefs on purgatory is that it makes you wonder what kind of an effect his views would have—if any—on the latter chapters of The Last Battle.

For instance, when you consider that one of the Dwarfs who shot at the Talking Horses ended up going through the door into Aslan's Country as Narnia came to an end, it's easy to believe that such a person would have some "stains that need scouring." Maybe even our Friends of Narnia would need some measure of purification, because Lewis, in A Grief Observed, wrote as if his beloved wife Joy was undergoing, or had undergone, some form of cleansing or "purgatory":

C.S. Lewis wrote:Her past anguish. How do I know that all her anguish is past? I never believed before—I thought it immensely improbable—that the faithfulest soul could leap straight into perfection and peace the moment death has rattled in the throat. It would be wishful thinking with a vengeance to take up that belief now. H. was a splendid thing; a soul straight, bright, and tempered like a sword. But not a perfected saint. A sinful woman married to a sinful man; two of God’s patients, not yet cured. I know there are not only tears to be dried but stains to be scoured. The sword will be made even brighter.

But oh God, tenderly, tenderly.


Perhaps this is why they were to go "further up and further in." Perhaps they, like the chapters in the neverending story that lay before them, were to always go on growing and becoming better than they were before.
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Re: C.S. Lewis's Views on Purgatory

Postby PhelanVelvel » Aug 06, 2014 12:02 pm

It seems that Lewis was trying to rationalise his religion through his writing, and this is no exception. Even within christianity, if we're to use the bible as the basis for its doctrine, I struggle to find any compelling evidence of purgatory therein. The passage that is used to support the idea states " If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire." I'm having a hard time understanding how people made the jump from that to imagining this state of in-between death and purity of the soul where you literally burn in some kind of fire (or other painful torment). From my understanding, the "baptism by fire" is more an invention of modern saints, and I wonder what limit can be put on such invention before people begin to wonder who is really right about what "God" wants.

That being said, I get the impression that the idea of something painted like hell's antechamber didn't sit entirely well with Lewis, and he wanted to make it seem more like a cathartic cleansing rather than a punishment. (That's fine, as that's all I can personally get out of the passage in the bible myself.) Anyway, I think that all of Narnia is a sort of rationalisation of religious belief, where the deity will always love you, and only through your own rejection of a being who can do you no harm will you bring yourself sadness, rather than the deity smiting you for not allowing him to micromanage your existence.

I think it's not in The Last Battle, frankly, because Lewis didn't like it. He chose all the best parts of his religion and removed all the unpleasant, hateful ones and put them in the Chronicles, which is why people like me are able to enjoy them. The only thing vaguely like purgatory would be when Aslan's blood in the river washes over Caspian and he becomes a young man again. Only Aslan suffers, not the individual, which strikes me as similar to the belief that Jesus' death on the cross was purgatory enough for everyone; one of the many interpretations of purgatory I've read.
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Re: C.S. Lewis's Views on Purgatory

Postby The Rose-Tree Dryad » Aug 06, 2014 6:50 pm

PhelanVelvel wrote:It seems that Lewis was trying to rationalise his religion through his writing, and this is no exception. Even within christianity, if we're to use the bible as the basis for its doctrine, I struggle to find any compelling evidence of purgatory therein. The passage that is used to support the idea states " If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire."


I think St. Paul may have been building on other themes present in the Bible with that passage, though. For instance, the concept of refining fire is found in the Old and New Testaments. There is also Mark 9:43-50, which seems to say (at least from my perspective) that there are those who either freely cast their sins into the fire and are thus purified, or those who are unwilling to let go of their sins and instead go with them into the fire. In that way, everyone will be "salted with fire." (Salt being a metaphor for purification.)

Phelan wrote:I'm having a hard time understanding how people made the jump from that to imagining this state of in-between death and purity of the soul where you literally burn in some kind of fire (or other painful torment).


I'm not an expert on Lewis's theology and I'm having a hard time digging up a quote to substantiate this impression, but my general understanding is that Lewis believed Hell was a state of psychological torment, not physical torture. It also may not even seem like torment to those who are experiencing it because they're so wrapped up in themselves, i.e. the blind and deaf Dwarfs in Aslan's Country. Obviously, they were not happy, but their misery was entirely due to their own self-absorption and not some sort of external punishment imposed upon them.

Phelan wrote:From my understanding, the "baptism by fire" is more an invention of modern saints, and I wonder what limit can be put on such invention before people begin to wonder who is really right about what "God" wants.


Do you mean that the purgatorial interpretation of "baptism by fire" is a modern invention? The idea of baptism by fire itself is present in the Bible, in the gospels of Matthew and Luke, and it prefaces the coming ministry of Jesus. This is what Matthew wrote, quoting John the Baptist:

"I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire."

Phelan wrote:I think it's not in The Last Battle, frankly, because Lewis didn't like it. He chose all the best parts of his religion and removed all the unpleasant, hateful ones and put them in the Chronicles, which is why people like me are able to enjoy them.


We kind of have to define what we mean by "his religion", though. Lewis strikes me as a man who became a Christian on his own terms; he studied the Bible, read many viewpoints on it, and eventually made up his own mind about how to view a lot of aspects of Christianity. (This would explain why we see him espousing more unusual views like purgatory.) While Lewis may have toned things down in CoN, seeing as they were children's books, I think he was also honest about his personal faith and views as well. At least, I can't think of anything I know about his own Christianity that he deliberately left out of the Chronicles because it wasn't "cozy" enough. :-?

Phelan wrote:Only Aslan suffers, not the individual, which strikes me as similar to the belief that Jesus' death on the cross was purgatory enough for everyone; one of the many interpretations of purgatory I've read.


Hmm, that's possible! I'll have to give it some thought, though. Lewis seemed to be closer to the Christus Victor/Ransom theories of atonement, rather than Penal Substitution; that's primarily my reason for giving pause.

As I think about it, it also seems to me that it's not improbable to think that the Dwarfs might have been in Lewis's purgatory, because they were still just sitting on the grass after Peter closed the door to Narnia. No streaming into a shadow for them. It's quite possible that, with time, they would learn to open their eyes and ears to something other than themselves.
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Re: C.S. Lewis's Views on Purgatory

Postby jewel » Sep 10, 2014 9:14 am

Lewis didn't believe in purgatory. Douglas Gresham told me so. He believed in a middle place as Anglicans do.
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Re: C.S. Lewis's Views on Purgatory

Postby coracle » Sep 11, 2014 2:40 am

Jewel, that's interesting. Can you tell us more about that? What is "the middle place"?
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Re: C.S. Lewis's Views on Purgatory

Postby jewel » Sep 12, 2014 5:58 am

Sure Coracle.. Anglicans in a middle place, not where the dead go there and you pray for them to go to heaven as Roman Catholics do, but rather that they are refreshed in this middle place{ only the saints go there} and they are cleansed from all sin before going to heaven. This is not a frying place as like Purgatory, but just a refreshing place for saints.
And by the way Anglican means of England. It's the same thing as the Church of England, but Anglican is a newer name for it.
Jack was raised in The church of Ireland part of the Anglican Communion, and he was Anglican until his deathbed.
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Re: C.S. Lewis's Views on Purgatory

Postby The Rose-Tree Dryad » Sep 12, 2014 11:34 am

jewel, do you have any links that talk about the "middle place"? I've been doing some googling and I'm having difficulty finding a description of a belief like the one you described within Anglicanism.

I'm a little confused as to why Mr. Gresham would say that his stepfather didn't believe in Purgatory, because Lewis wrote in Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer that he believed in some understanding of it. (You can read a lengthy excerpt containing this statement on this blog post that I ran across.) Of course, there seems to be an important distinction to be made between the views Lewis presented in those passages and the Catholic doctrine of Purgatory. Lewis wrote that "the Reformers had good reasons for throwing doubt on 'the Romish doctrine concerning Purgatory' as that Romish doctrine had then become" and instead embraced an understanding similar to what is presented in John Henry Newman's The Dream of Gerontius.

Would it be possible for you to share your correspondence with Mr. Gresham? I'm curious. :)
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Re: C.S. Lewis's Views on Purgatory

Postby jewel » Sep 12, 2014 12:39 pm

Yes I do. Here is a link to that question.
http://anglicancleric.blogspot.com/2006 ... ition.html
http://conciliaranglican.com/2011/08/19 ... and-grace/
And about Anglican teaching. I would be very glad to recommend books on it for you or explain it's theology. Remember not all Anglicans see eye to eye.
only a few Anglicans as far I'm aware have a doctrine to purgatory. These folks are called Anglican Catholics, although some Anglican Catholics don't believe in it.
Lewis's theology is often considered to align with Anglo-Catholic by the way.
About Douglas Gresham, I lost the email in spam. If you would like to contact him, go to John Mark Ministries, and write them, and ask them for Mr. Gresham's email. If that doesn't work contact me and I'll try to help you.
I have his email address but I don't know if I'm allowed to give it. but John Mark ministries should write you back with Mr. Gresham's email.
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Re: C.S. Lewis's Views on Purgatory

Postby coracle » Sep 13, 2014 2:15 pm

My effort to reply to you 12 hours ago was thwarted by a frozen screen.

However, let me assure you, Jewel, that you are misled in your notion that Lewis was ever a Catholic. This is a claim sometimes made by Catholics who want to claim him as theirs, but it is not true.

Thank you for your answer about Anglicanism. I do know about High and Low Anglican churches, having lived in England for part of my life, and I know about Anglo-Catholicism and its history. (this is the correct term in England)

I don't know what sort of Anglican background you have, but it is not the sort of Anglican church I have been in for 50 years. I never met such notions of Anglican theology at our church or when studying for my theology degree.
Are you an American Anglican?

Mr Gresham is a friend of mine, and I will ask him about your comments.
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Re: C.S. Lewis's Views on Purgatory

Postby jewel » Sep 14, 2014 6:13 pm

What doctrine are you talking about? And as far as my experience as an Anglican, I'm a recent convert to the Church of England. I tend to agree with Anglo-Catholicism.
And yes I'm American, so I don't how close all beliefs we see eye to eye with the English Anglicans.
How about you Coracle? What are your Anglican beliefs as compared to C. S. Lewis's and, what are your views on intermediate state of grace as compared to C. S. Lewis.
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Re: C.S. Lewis's Views on Purgatory

Postby coracle » Sep 16, 2014 12:59 am

There is a set of statements in the Anglican Prayer Book, which sets out what makes us a Protestant church. This applies to all Anglicans, although some churches and individuals choose to follow different teachings and practices.

Article 22 says:
"The Romish Doctrine concerning Purgatory, Pardons, Worshipping and Adoration, as well of Images as of Relics, and also Invocation of Saints, is a fond thing, vainly invented, and grounded upon no warranty of Scripture, but rather repugnant to the Word of God."

Lewis considered himself to be a pretty ordinary Anglican; he didn't believe in RC style Purgatory.

His suggestions in the Narnia stories, of how it is to approach and enter Heaven, include the time in the Eastern Sea in VDT, which prepared the children to cope with the bright light etc near the end of the world, and their arrival at Aslan's Country in LB.
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Re: C.S. Lewis's Views on Purgatory

Postby coracle » Sep 17, 2014 2:42 am

I have received a reply from Mr Gresham, with specific reference to certain points:

(re Jewel's memory of a conversation)..it's not what I would say about Jack. He certainly did not believe in the Roman Catholic confection of Purgatory, but he did believe in a sort of mental state in which when we suddenly find ourselves face to face with Jesus, we will not, or at least should not, feel "clean" enough to be there, and we will hope to be given something that will finally complete our cleansing that "something" will be puragative rather than purgatory.

(re Jewel's description of an Anglican purgatory) that is an entirely new one to me and I grew up in a High Church Anglican parish church.

(re Jewel's claim that Jack converted to Catholicism on his deathbed...) Jack was an Anglican to his death and never leant in any way towards the church of Rome. If anything at all he was leaning the other way
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Re: C.S. Lewis's Views on Purgatory

Postby jewel » Sep 17, 2014 8:41 am

What did I say different than Anglican theology you were taught? And are you sure Coracle C. S. Lewis was always Anglican?
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Re: C.S. Lewis's Views on Purgatory

Postby coracle » Sep 17, 2014 12:40 pm

Yes. Douglas Gresham assured me of that.
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