CS Lewis Said What?!
April 15, 2012, 12:04 pm
Filed under: CS Lewis, Roman Catholicism

written by Christopher Macfarlane

It’s not uncommon to hear people quote CS Lewis. I think for many folks, he should be considered the Protestant pope if ever there should’ve been one. He’s written many books. I remember one of the books assigned to the 101 students in Bible college was Lewis’ Mere Christianity. As I became more interested in Lewis’ work, I did some more digging through his material. But I found that the deeper I went, the more shocked I became at some of the stuff Lewis has said. Here are some of his quotes on serious Biblical teachings so you can see for yourself. You might walk away from reading this asking the same question I eventually asked myself – “Why are we quoting CS Lewis?”

A pagan might actually belong to Christ, though they don’t know it. 

“There are people in other religions who are being led by God’s secret influence to concentrate on those parts of their religion which are in agreement with Christianity, and who thus belong to Christ without knowing it … For example a Buddhist of good will may be led to concentrate more and more on the Buddhist teaching about mercy and to leave in the background (though he might still say he believed) the Buddhist teaching on certain points. Many of the good Pagans long before Christ’s birth may have been in this position” (Mere Christianity, pp. 176-177).

“I think that every prayer which is sincerely made even to a false god or to a very imperfectly conceived true God, is accepted by the true God and that Christ saves many who do not think they know Him.” (Letters of C. S. Lewis, 428.)

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 Humanity actually came from centuries of God gradually perfecting animals. In other words, theistic evolution:

For long centuries God perfected the animal form which was to become the vehicle of humanity and the image of Himself. He gave it hands whose thumb could be applied to each. of the fingers, and jaws and teeth and throat capable of articulation, and a brain sufficiently complex to execute all the material motions whereby rational thought is incarnated. The creature may have existed for ages in this state before it became man: it may even have been clever enough to make things which a modern archaeologist would accept as proof of its humanity. But it was only an animal because all its physical and psychical processes were directed to purely material and natural ends. Then, in the fullness of time, God caused to descend upon this organism, both on its psychology and physiology, a new kind of consciousness which could say “I” and ”me”, which could look upon itself as an object, which knew God, which could make judgements of truth, beauty, and goodness, and which was so far above time that it could perceive time flowing past.

This new consciousness ruled and illuminated the whole organism, flooding every part of it with light, and was not, like ours, limited to a selection of the movements going on in one part of the organism; namely the brain. Man was then all consciousness. (The Problem of Pain, p. 177).

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 CS Lewis decided to write a book about prayer. January 5, 1953, he wrote to Father Giovanni Calabria the following:

“I invite your prayers about a work which I now have in hand. I am trying to write a book about private prayers for the use of the laity, especially for those who have been recently converted to the Christian faith and so far are without any sustained and regular habit of prayer. I tackled the job because I saw many no doubt very beautiful books written on this subject of prayer for the religious but few which instruct tiros and those still babes (so to say) in the Faith. I find many difficulties nor do I definitely know whether God wishes me to complete this task or not.”

 A year later he abandoned the book he had started. He wrote to Sister Penelope CSMV in February 15, 1954 the following:

 “I have had to abandon the book on prayer: it was clearly not for me.” 

Ten years later, he decided to continue the book. It became Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer. The book is basically CS Lewis writing to a fictitious character named Malcolm. In the book we can see that Lewis had some “interesting” theology. He admits that he prays for the dead, and believes in Purgatory. 

Of course I pray for the dead. The action is so spontaneous, so all but inevitable, that only the most compulsive theological case against it would deter me. And I hardly know how the rest of my prayers would survive if those for the dead were forbidden. At our age the majority of those we love best are dead. What sort of intercourse with God could I have if what I love best were unmentionable to Him?

 On the traditional Protestant view, all the dead are damned or saved. If they are damned, prayer for them is useless. If they are saved, it is equally useless. God has already done all for them. What more should we ask? But don’t we believe that God has already done and is already doing all that He can for the living? What more should we ask? Yet we are told to ask.

“Yes,” it will be answered, “but the living are still on the road. Further trials, further developments, possibilities of error, await them. But the saved have been made perfect. They have finished the course. To pray for them presupposes that progress and difficulty are still possible. In fact, you are bringing in something like Purgatory.”

Well, I suppose I am. Though even in Heaven some perpetual increase of beatitude, reached by a continually more ecstatic self-surrender, without the possibility of failure but not perhaps without its own ardours and exertions—for delight also has its severities and steep ascents, as lovers know—might be supposed. But I won’t press, or guess, that side for the moment. I believe in Purgatory.

Mind you, the Reformers had good reasons for throwing doubt on “the Romish doctrine concerning Purgatory” as that Romish doctrine had then become. I don’t mean merely the commercial scandal [that is, the selling of indulgences]. If you turn from Dante’s Purgatorio to the sixteenth century you will be appalled by the degradation. In Thomas More’s Supplication of Souls Purgatory is simply temporary Hell. In it the souls are tormented by devils, whose presence is “more horrible and grievous to us than is the pain itself.” Worse still, [John] Fisher, in his Sermon on Psalm VI, says the tortures are so intense that the spirit who suffers them cannot, for pain, “remember God as he ought to do.” in fact, the very etymology of the word purgatory has dropped out of sight. Its pains do not bring us nearer to God, but make us forget Him. It is a place not of purification but purely of retributive punishment.

The right view returns magnificently in [John Henry] Newman’s Dream[of Gerontius]. There, if I remember it rightly, the saved soul, at the very foot of the throne, begs to be taken away and cleansed. It cannot bear for a moment longer “With its darkness to affront that light.” Religion has claimed Purgatory.*

Our souls demand Purgatory, don’t they? Would it not break the heart if God said to us, “It is true, my son, that your breath smells and your rags drip with mud and slime, but we are charitable here and no one will upbraid you with these things, nor draw away from you. Enter into the joy”? Should we not reply, “With submission, sir, and if there is no objections, I’d rather be cleaned first.” “It may hurt, you know”—”Even so, sir.”

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 suffering is the purpose of the purgation. I can well believe that people neither much worse not much better than I will suffer less than I or more. “No nonsense about merit.” The treatment given will be the one required, whether it hurts little or much.

My favourite 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 thismay 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. (Letters to Malcolm, p. 107-109).

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