Anglican Notables – C. S. Lewis (Authors, Poets) – 22 November

Anglican Notables – C. S. Lewis (Authors, Poets) – 22 November

[This is a series of biographical sketches of Anglican men and women whose lives have been exemplary in virtue and/or have made significant contributions to Anglicanism’s expression of the Gospel.  Written from the perspective of full communion with the See of St. Peter, including such papal statements as St. John Paul II’s encyclical on ecumenism, Ut Unum Sint, this series will occasionally acknowledge differences between Anglicans and Catholics where they exist and will do so in a spirit of charity and respect.  However, the intent is to focus less on differences than on opportunities for mutual enrichment between the Anglican and Catholic traditions and on shared spiritual treasures that already unite us.]

C. S. Lewis.  Born 29 November 1898 (Belfast, Ireland) – Died 22 November 1963 (Oxford, England)

Author, Scholar, Philosopher, Theologian – held academic positions in English literature at both Oxford University (Magdalen College, 1925-1954) and Cambridge University (Magdalene College, 1954-1963).  Best-known works: The Screwtape Letters; the children’s novels comprising The Chronicles of Narnia; the novels comprising The Space Trilogy; The Four Loves; A Grief Observed; Mere Christianity; Miracles; and The Problem of Pain.

[The image is a photograph of Lewis at the age of 48.]

As with St. John Henry Newman, so with C. S. Lewis: both are so well known and have been so extensively studied and written about that saying less is best.  I limit myself, then, to making one observation, which is tied to a similar observation I made concerning Benjamin Britten, who is also remembered on 22 November.  There is no indication Britten and Lewis, though contemporaries, ever met.  But both made magnificent contributions to Christianity through the Anglican tradition at a time when Anglicanism and the West needed the kind of depth and intelligence both Britten and Lewis were able to provide.  There are many Christians, Anglican and non-Anglican, whose understanding of theology owes much to the clarity of Lewis’s writing and to his Anglican theological perspective.  When Lewis’s exploration of a topic presented a choice between veering towards Anglicanism’s Catholic roots or towards its Protestant perspective, Lewis might have consistently followed the former course.  (See one of Lewis’s quotes on Purgatory below, an apt topic from his writings during this month of November.)  Yet, so well-reasoned is Lewis’s writing, and so naturally did he steer clear of sectarian controversy, that many who identify as Protestant Evangelicals (for want of a more accurate term) have claimed Lewis as a kind of doctor ecclesiae in their traditions.

Br. John-Bede Pauley, O.S.B.

A prayer of thanks for the work and witness of C. S. Lewis:

O God of searing truth and surpassing beauty, we give thee thanks for Clive Staples Lewis whose sanctified imagination lighteth fires of faith in young and old alike; Surprise us also with thy joy and draw us into that new and abundant life which is ours in Christ Jesus, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Lewis on 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?

“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…..

“The right view returns magnificently in Newman’s DREAM. 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 objection, 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 the suffering is the purpose of the purgation. I can well believe that people neither much worse nor much better than I will suffer less than I or more. . . . 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 this may be more fiery and astringent than my present sensibility could endure. But . . . it will [not] be disgusting and unhallowed.”

C.S. Lewis, Letters To Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer, chapter 20, paragraphs 7-10, pages 108-109.  (Quoted here.)

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