A C.S. Lewis round-up, and my favorite Lewis anecdote

Christian corners of the Internet are teeming today with posts and articles about C.S. Lewis, who died 50 years ago today at the age of 64. Here at CWR we’ve run several pieces in the last two weeks or so in anticipation of today’s anniversary.

First we have Michael Coren’s appreciation of Lewis’ life and work, “Jack: Convert, ‘Mere’ Christian, and Near Catholic”:

Lewis declared himself a Christian in 1929, “perhaps the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England.” It was as though he had tried to avoid the inevitable, considering every argument against Christianity, forcing himself to take on all of the objections his fertile mind could produce. Each one he overcame. By the time his intellect was well and truly won over his emotional being simply fell into place. From this point on everything he wrote was informed and enlivened by his Christianity. But Lewis was too subtle and too clever to knock people over the head with his faith. He knew that talking was far more effective than shouting. …

What he did do was to show that a belief in God was logical, and that from this belief an acceptance of Jesus Christ was unavoidable. He reversed the equation offered by the secular world, that it is the thoughtless who become Christians, the thoughtful who reject Christianity. Simply, he summed up the arguments like an angel: “There is no need to be worried by facetious people who try to make the Christian hope of Heaven ridiculous by saying they do not want to spend eternity playing harps. The answer to such people is that if they cannot understand books written for grown-ups, they should not talk about them. All the scriptural imagery (harps, crowns, gold, etc) is, of course, a merely symbolical attempt to express the inexpressible. People who take these symbols literally might as well think that when Christ told us to be like doves, He meant that we were to lay eggs.”

Next CWR editor Carl E. Olson provides a short introduction to Lewis’ writings, highlighting the great author’s recurring themes and persistent interests:

However impressive his learning and skills, there is a much more mysterious quality behind the distinctive features of Lewis’s writing and thinking – the reality of Joy. It is for good reason that Lewis’s account of his formative years was titled Surprised By Joy since the elusive experience of “Joy” powerfully shaped his life and thought, as he indicated in many of his writings. 

As a young boy of six Lewis experienced the sensation of “enormous bliss” on a summer day, accompanied by the memory of a toy garden in his nursery. “It was a sensation, of course, of desire,” he wrote in Surprised By Joy, “but desire for what?” That sudden sensation ceased but “in a certain sense everything else that had ever happened to me was insignificant in comparison.” That elusive Joy was the subject of early poetry, of his first work of prose, The Pilgrim’s Regress, and of his famous sermon, The Weight of Glory.

Closely related to his search for Joy was his love for myth and mythology. As a young man, Lewis again experienced Joy when he immersed himself in Norse mythology. Yet he also abandoned Christianity because he became convinced it was just one myth among many and a product of human invention. But a long conversation with J.R.R. Tolkien and Hugo Dyson in September 1931 opened his eyes to the uniqueness of the “true myth” called Christianity. “Now the story of Christ,” he wrote, “is simply a true myth: a myth working on us in the same way as the others, but with this tremendous difference that it really happened.” It was this true myth–the life, death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ–that Lewis would devote much of his energy and ability toward explaining and defending for the next thirty years of his life.

You’ll want to read the whole thing, here.

Noted Lewis biographer Joseph Pearce rounds out CWR’s anniversary pieces with “C.S. Lewis and Catholic Converts,” in which he notes Lewis’ remarkable track-record for leading others into the Church he never entered himself:

A lesser known but nonetheless powerful part of C.S. Lewis’ legacy is the impact that he has had on the conversion of countless numbers of people to the Catholic Church. This is indeed an astonishing phenomenon considering that Lewis never became a Catholic himself, unlike many other literary converts, such as John Henry Newman, Gerard Manley Hopkins, G.K. Chesterton, Evelyn Waugh, and Graham Greene, to name but an illustrious few. Although the reading of Catholic authors, such as Chesterton, and the friendship with Catholics, such as J.R.R. Tolkien, played a crucial role in Lewis’ conversion from atheism to Christianity, he was never seriously tempted to cross the Tiber into the welcoming arms of Mother Church. And yet, in spite of the residual anti-papist prejudice that he inherited as a Belfast Protestant, many of the core beliefs he embraced as a “mere Christian” placed him decidedly on the Catholic end of the theological spectrum. He believed in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, which he referred to as the Blessed Sacrament; he practiced auricular confession; he vehemently opposed female ordination, condemning in forthright terms the danger of having “priestesses in the Church”; he declared his belief in purgatory and in the efficacy of praying for the dead; and, last but not least, he crusaded against the errors and heresies of theological modernism. It is perhaps, therefore, not so surprising that C.S. Lewis has ushered so many people into the Catholic Church.

Over at Ignatius Press’ “Novel Thoughts” blog, John Herreid has more great Lewis-related links and excerpts—including one that will be of particular interest to Dr. Who fans.

Finally, I have to include my all-time favorite anecdote about C.S. Lewis, which is found in Sheldon Vanauken’s A Severe Mercy. During his time studying at Oxford, Vanauken became good friends with Lewis, and the two later enjoyed a lively and fascinating correspondence. This passage comes as Vanauken and his wife, Davy, prepare to leave Oxford and return to America:

On that last day I met C.S. Lewis at the Eastgate for lunch. We talked, I recall, about death or, rather, awakening after death. “Whatever it would be like, we thought, our response to it would be “Why, of course! Of course it’s like this. How else could it have possibly been.” We both chuckled at that. I said it would be a sort of coming home, and he agreed. Lewis said he hoped Davy and I would be coming back to England soon, for we mustn’t get out of touch. “At all events,” he said with a cheerful grin, “we’ll certainly meet again, here—or there.” Then it was time to go, and we drained our mugs. When we emerged on to the busy High with traffic streaming past, we shook hands, and he said: “I shan’t say goodbye. We’ll meet again.” Then he plunged into the traffic. I stood there watching him. When he reached the pavement on the other side, he turned round as though he knew somehow that I would still be standing there in front of the Eastgate. Then he raised his voice in a great roar that easily overcame the noise of the cars and buses. Heads turned and at least one car swerved. “Besides,” he bellowed with a great grin, “Christians NEVER say goodbye!”

Requiescat in pace.

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About Catherine Harmon 578 Articles
Catherine Harmon works in the marketing department for Ignatius Press.