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C S Lewis and the Catholic Church

PostPosted: Oct 08, 2009 12:36 pm
by MarkSommer
Has anyone read Joseph Pearce's C S Lewis and the Catholic Church? Pearce makes an argument that Lewis might have become Catholic if he had lived on until today. It is interesting, though, I think, a bit flawed.
I was able to hear Pearce speak at Notre Dame Tuesday night. Perhaps a NarniaWebber (besides me) might have been there. I wrote up a report on
Let me know what you think.

Re: C S Lewis and the Catholic Chruch

PostPosted: Oct 09, 2009 5:15 pm
by Aravis Narnia
Interesting. He does not seem to attack Catholicism.

Although when I first read the Narnia books, I wonder if there would be people of that denomination (especially in certain parts of the world) who would have an issue with there being no mention of Aslan having a mother...

Re: C S Lewis and the Catholic Chruch

PostPosted: Oct 09, 2009 9:14 pm
by Lady of the Narnians

I thought what he said was good!
He didn't say nothing bad about the Catholics a all!

Re: C S Lewis and the Catholic Chruch

PostPosted: Oct 09, 2009 9:32 pm
by 220chrisTian
My problem with Pearce's theory is that we don't know how Lewis might have influenced the Anglican church if he had died later. We don't know what his reaction to the "new" Anglicanism would have been. It's all supposition. How do you base a theory on "what if"? /:)

The sobering truth is that even if Lewis had not chosen to leave the Church of England, the Church of England has chosen to leave him.
Why has the Church of England "left" Lewis? Maybe because they're not the church they once were and should be, which has nothing to do with Lewis. And maybe Lewis, if he had lived to see the new Church of England, would have tried to be a reformer rather than a separatist or convert to another church. ;)

Lewis also expressed disapproval of certain doctrines of the Catholic Church such as the ultimate authority of the Pope and the “worship” of Mary. Pearce concludes that Lewis just didn’t “see the light” on certain issues, but that it seems certain that Lewis has become a Catholic since dying in 1963.
Pearce certainly sounds biased to me. These are doctrinal issues. And no matter what I might think of a certain church today, I would never back down on biblical doctrine. I don't think Lewis would either. But again, that's supposition. ;)

In light of this topic, I'm wondering what your thoughts are on my topic, "C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien: Friendly Antagonists?" In the opening post I gave a link to an article that addresses Lewis' Anglicanism and Tolkien's Catholicism, among other things. :)

Re: C S Lewis and the Catholic Chruch

PostPosted: Oct 10, 2009 5:54 am
by MarkSommer
Thanks for the replies.

220chrisTian said:
Pearce certainly sounds biased to me.

Aren't we all? Most people tend to have a bias that favors what they were taught in their youth (i.e. Lewis), while others reject what they learned in their youth and have a bias for their new beliefs (i.e. Pearce and Tolkien).

The hard part is often being open to new ideas.

I will try to leave a comment on the topic you linked.

Re: C S Lewis and the Catholic Chruch

PostPosted: Oct 21, 2009 6:42 am
by Amira Tair
Very interesting subject. I have not read the book, didn't even know it existed, althoguh I know another one from the same author about English people converted to Catholicism, which I hope to get soon. Thanks for the report.

Although I am by no means an expert on the subject, it always seemed to me that Lewis was quite close to Catholicism, except, in regard to the Pope and the Blessed Virgin. I remember reading something to that effect in some of Tolkien's letters to his son, where he dealt with Lewis's views and their differences. What might have happened if he had lived more years? Nobody knows, but in this I think we'll all be biased.

Aravis Narnia wrote:Although when I first read the Narnia books, I wonder if there would be people of that denomination (especially in certain parts of the world) who would have an issue with there being no mention of Aslan having a mother...

I can't speak for other people, but I am a Catholic from a traditionally Catholic country (Spain) - and I have a great devotion to St. Mary - and have never had a problem with that. But I always had in mind that he was an Anglican, with a view different from mine, and that the Chronicles are not a theological work. I simply accept and enjoy the Christian elements as well as the story, in the same way I enjoy Tolkien's works, even though the Christian elements there are more subtle and more difficult to find. Although I did notice from the very first moment that nothing was mentioned about Aslan's mother. ;)

Re: C S Lewis and the Catholic Chruch

PostPosted: Nov 01, 2009 12:04 pm
by Gandalfs Beard
Very interesting Mark. Your articles and posts are always thought-provoking :D .

I'm not so sure that Lewis would have felt out of place in the modern Anglican church though. Anglicanism has a history of being a bit "liberal" theologically, and accepting of "outside the box" thinking. The Lewis quote in your article is actually very revealing:

Lewis to Greeves:
Now the story of Christ is simply a true myth working on us in the same way as the others, but with this important difference that it really happened: and one must be content to accept it in the same way, remembering that it is God’s myth where the others are men’s myths: i.e. the Pagan stories are God expressing Himself through the minds of poets, using such images as He found there , while Christianity is God expressing Himself through what we call ‘real things’.

This isn't the view of an "unenlightened or reactionary" person as Pearce claims the Modern Anglican Church sees Lewis. And Lewis's exploration of Taoism near the end of his life suggests that he was "progressing" along with the rest of the Church. Look at such modern Anglicans as Michael Ward and JK Rowling. I think Lewis would have found himself in good company.

GB (%)

Re: C S Lewis and the Catholic Chruch

PostPosted: Nov 01, 2009 7:02 pm
by MarkSommer
Gandalf's Beard:

I think you misunderstand Lewis's use of the term Tao. In The Abolition of Man he uses it as a synonym for natural law. He does not use it the way the Chinese philosophers do. His concern was that morals and ethics (as being sourced in something outside one's self) were being ignored in education. (Romans 2:14-15)
As Pearce rightly points out, Lewis often spoke out about the liberal tendencies of his own church. He certainly would not have called himself a progressive.
The ideas in the quote of Lewis's letter to Greeves was not a radical or liberal idea even in Lewis's day. It is what the Church as a whole has always taught about "General Revelation" or "Common Grace" based on such passages as Romans 1:18-20.

For a good summary of "General Revelation" see ... neral.html

Re: C S Lewis and the Catholic Chruch

PostPosted: Nov 02, 2009 3:05 am
by Gandalfs Beard
I wasn't using the term "liberal" politically or socially (though I would argue that Lewis was far less "reactionary" than he is often accused of) Mark, I meant theologically. That's why I put quotes around it ;) .

Erikson's succinct definition of General Revelation which is quoted in your link--"God's self-manifestation through nature, history, and the inner being of the human person"--is such a universal sounding phrase that one can find echoes of it in Gnosticism, Hinduism and yes, even Taoism. And it's my understanding that many Christians would not necessarily define it in quite that way. Subtle distinctions in wording can lead to different interpretations, some of them more exclusive than others.

Which is why it begs the question, that Lewis would appropriate the term "Tao" in The Abolition of Man (which I've read) to describe aspects of Christianity. To do so, he had to have some knowledge of, and respect for Taoism. Just as Lewis had a "soft spot" for Paganism, which is why I focused on that part of the Lewis quote. This is what I mean about being "liberal" theologically :) .


Re: C S Lewis and the Catholic Chruch

PostPosted: Nov 02, 2009 8:03 am
by MarkSommer
I was using the term "liberal" in the same way – theologically. As to why Lewis decides to use "Tao," I am not a deep enough Lewis scholar to be qualified to say. But, you have to interpret what he meant by his other works. When Lewis used pagan sources, he was always very careful to "baptize" them with the Christian worldview, similar to what the Apostle Paul does in his address at Mar's Hill in Athens when he talks about the "unknown god." (Acts 17)
"Liberal" is a relative term. There are certainly segments of Christianity that consider Lewis a liberal, but most "liberal" Christians would consider him a rather staunch conservative. Given the words Lewis often penned about "progress," I would think he considered himself conservative, too.
Also, as Pearce rightly points out, the fact that the Anglican Church has pretty much stopped reading Lewis is in itself very telling.
Would Lewis have become more theologically "liberal" as the decades progressed? We really have no way to know for certain. But, from what I know about the man and his beliefs (which, I must admit, is not exhaustive), my assessment must be that he would have serious problems indeed with the direction his church has gone.

Re: C S Lewis and the Catholic Chruch

PostPosted: Nov 02, 2009 12:02 pm
by Gandalfs Beard
Mark wrote:
When Lewis used pagan sources, he was always very careful to "baptize" them with the Christian worldview,

Agreed :) . I note this point often myself, but it still begs the question as to how "conservative" he truly was theologically as many Christians conservative or not have little use for (or appreciation of) Paganism, literary or otherwise (or Taoism for that matter). And I don't deny he considered himself conservative, nor that many "liberals" within and without the church consider him such also.

But this is largely based on Lewis's reputation built with a sizable body of Christian Apologetics. If that were his only legacy, there would be no question about it. But Lewis was an atheist for a fair portion of his life and had an appreciation for Pagan Mythology and the "Imagination" since childhood. So when one reads his fiction, and some of his non-fiction books such as The Discarded Image or The Abolition of Man (and even portions of his Apologetics) one is immediately struck by this appreciation.

I think a lot of this is missed, or glossed over by more politically "progressive" Anglicans and others, who I think have a rather narrow "Politically Correct" view of Lewis. He is often unfairly viewed as misogynist (when in many respects his works reflect views more advanced than many in his era), and sometimes as racist (though I would say "culturalist" would be more apt). I think this has coloured their view of his theology also. After Lewis met and married Joy Davidman (a "feisty" Marxist with Progressive social views), one can discern a shift in his own views which may have (or not) continued had he lived on another few decades.

Having read many of your posts here and on other forums, I don't think we're very far apart :D . It's mostly a matter of what emphasis we put on the various aspects of Lewis's complex personality, and the relativity of the terms we're using not only politically, socially, or theologically, but geographically.

GB (%)

Re: C S Lewis and the Catholic Chruch

PostPosted: Nov 06, 2009 6:52 pm
by Lucy P.
I, too, am Catholic and have taken pretty much the same approach Amira Tair has to the series.

I have to point out that C.S. Lewis is widely read in Catholic circles. His writings, while not taken to be doctrine, are extremely similar to those of a Catholic and are really spiritually edifying (as I'm sure you know ;) ). He is sold in every Catholic bookstore alongside authors like G.K. Chesterton.

I have enjoyed his Screwtape Letters and quite a few of his essays.

I can't say much about Lewis' near conversion because I haven't studied him enough (I'm going to have to go read those articles now) but I have to say it wouldn't surprise me if he would have become Catholic before he died, considering all the Catholic elements in his work. (the case of Emeth is the one that stands out from the Chronicles specifically)

Re: C S Lewis and the Catholic Chruch

PostPosted: Nov 21, 2009 9:32 pm
by Lirenel
I have read Pearce's book, and at the time it made sense. But then I found a journal article by Eric Seddon, "Letters to Malcolm and the Trouble with Narnia: C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and their 1949 Crisis", which gives and entirely different view of Lewis's relationship to Catholicism.

In trying to analyze the breaking down of the friendship between Tolkien and Lewis, Seddon points specifically to two of Lewis's works: Narnia and Letters to Malcolm. With Narnia, Seddon hypotheses that Tolkien wasn't jealous or miffed that Lewis mixed up his mythologies, but he saw in Narnia a land utterly at odds with his Catholic faith. Catholic liturgy and belief centers around the Eucharist as the true body and blood of Christ, and they see it as the heart of Christianity. And yet in Narnia, there is no institution of anything similar to the Eucharist. What is more, Seddon points out the Beaver tells the Pevensies that Aslan comes and goes, whereas the Eucharist, in Catholic theology, is actually Christ being with believers at all times. There's no coming and going (this is all in the article).

The bigger examination of Lewis's relationship with Catholic thought is apparently in Letters to Malcolm. The quotes Seddon gives shows that Lewis did not share many Catholic beliefs. In Letters to Malcolm, he characterizes practices like established prayers and praying the rosary as childish. He dismisses transubstantiation, a central part of the Eucharist, and even has an idea more of a 'spiritual' resurrection at the end of times instead of a bodily resurrection, as Catholicism teaches.

It was definitely an interesting article. I haven't read Letters to Malcolm myself, so I will take it with a grain of salt. Letters to Malcolm was also one of the last of Lewis's writings, and I don't know much about his later life and what might have influenced his thinking. But I thought I'd put the thoughts out there for discussion.

Re: C S Lewis and the Catholic Chruch

PostPosted: Nov 22, 2009 6:28 am
by Gandalfs Beard
Seddon's analysis sounds dubious at best to me. Tolkien has clearly been quoted as calling Narnia a "Hodgepodge" of existing Myths rather than a Unique Creation. And biographers have provided ample evidence that this was Tolkien's chief criticism of Narnia.

And there is little credibility in the notion that Tolkien was miffed because Narnia wasn't "Catholic" enough. His own works bear little sign of the Eucharist themselves.

The key elements that cooled the relationship between Tolkien and Lewis however, definitely include Lewis's perceptions of Catholicism. Of that there is indeed plenty of evidence.

GB (%)

Re: C S Lewis and the Catholic Chruch

PostPosted: Nov 22, 2009 6:56 am
by Lirenel
You're right, and like I said, I take the article with a grain of salt. However, I think Seddon *does* have a point that Lewis's works have *always* been a bit of a hodgepodge of everything. The Space Trilogy (which Tolkien liked and which predated Narnia) involved aliens, medieval planetary imagery, King Arthur and Merlin, and Christian aspects such as angels. Maybe, though, Tolkien liked the uniqueness of Lewis's aliens. Or the fact that Ransom was based on him. ;)

As with all journal articles, I think Seddon reached a bit farther than he should have, probably to include Narnia (which would enhance readership) when he should have kept to Letters to Malcolm. Which, if quoted correctly, *does* show a side of Lewis that seems quite biased against the beliefs of his friend.

Re: C S Lewis and the Catholic Chruch

PostPosted: Nov 22, 2009 7:35 am
by Gandalfs Beard
Agreed. If Seddon had stuck to Letters of Malcolm, his points are quite accurate and in accordance with what many other biographers have also pointed out. Based on what you have told me about his article, it seems that perhaps he reached too far in an effort to stand out from the crowd and present something new.

As to Lewis's "Hodgepodge", there is a sense in which Tolkien and some others are correct. But I see that as very superficial. Underlying Lewis's works are Uniting Themes that are related to all of the myriad sources he draws upon. It was really a bit unfair of Tolkien to accuse Lewis of Hodgepodgery in Narnia, particularly considering his own Syncretic approach underlying his own works. Tolkien simply was more subtle in referencing his source material.

GB (%)