If you’ve read any of my earlier articles, you may have noticed that I quote heavily from C.S. Lewis.
I first encountered Mr. Lewis as a child. I was very young and I caught the tail end of a cartoon version of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. I was later delighted to find out that not only was there a book version of this movie, but that it was merely the first in a seven-book series.
As I grew older and moved on to Tolkien and Middle-Earth I was pleasantly surprised to find that not only that Tolkien and Lewis were contemporaries but also good friends.
And finally I moved forward and discovered Lewis also wrote books on Christian theology. Ever since I have gobbled up as much Lewis as I could, both theology and fiction.
Meet C.S. Lewis.
Joseph Pierce, a wonderful Catholic literary scholar and biographer, asked a number of Catholic converts to give him a list of books that brought them to the Catholic Church. The only author that was on all of their lists was C.S. Lewis.
The late author has shepherded countless people into the Papal flock. I believe that he is one of the best Catholic apologists of the 20th Century.
Which is ironic because C.S. Lewis was not Catholic.
Those familiar with Lewis’ story know that he spent his early childhood in Ireland, where tensions between Catholics and Protestants would forever color his view of “Papists.”
He was a genius in no uncertain terms who, as Peter Kreeft noted, read everything he could and memorized everything he read. He fell in love with literature and wanted to be a poet.
During his younger days he was a confirmed atheist But slowly, through the influence of people like J.R.R. Tolkein, Lewis opened himself up to God and found Christ. His extraordinary inner journey can be read in his autobiography Surprised by Joy. “Joy” was his term for the indescribable longing that we feel when we encounter the beautiful. This desire slowly made him realize that we were made for a something not in this world.
I fear that I have drastically over-simplified Lewis’ conversion story. Regardless, his influence as a Christian author cannot be overestimated.
Lewis’ books are more enduring and penetrating than most others for a number of reasons:
Lewis was not a theologian.
I mean that he wasn’t officially trained in theology. He was a layman, like G.K. Chesterton, who wrote about religion, not because it was his job but because it was his passion. Sometimes reading papers or articles on theology can be dry because it involves academics writing for other academics.
Lewis was an admitted amateur in the subject. So he was not trained to write for theology professors but for the common Christian.
Lewis is clear.
You can pick up any religion book by Lewis and understand the basics of his argument. Unlike some other great writers like Chesterton, Lewis is deep but not dense. I once read The Great Divorce in one sitting.
He uses great economy in is writing. He won’t use 11 words if 10 will do. That isn’t to say that his writing lacks wit and flourish. He just knows that using big words to sound smart is not a good substitute for actual wisdom.
When he lays out the Problem of Pain, he puts it in the simplest terms so that we can apprehend the issue at hand with complete clarity:
“If God were good, He would wish to make His creatures perfectly happy, and if God were almighty He would be able to do what he wished. But the creatures are not happy. Therefore God lacks either goodness, or power, or both.’ This is the problem of pain in its simplest form.”
Lewis is the master of analogy.
Whenever we deal with mysterious things, our ability to explain is going to be lacking. Analogies are useful here because even though they do not prove that something is true, it does show it could be true.
Take this one, for example:
“It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad.”
This image is easy to apprehend and one that everyday man can picture. It helps us understand why we have to be transformed and why that transformation is difficult.
Or take his critique of those who object to a God who punishes:
“What would really satisfy us would be a God who said of anything we happened to like, “What does it matter so long as they are contented?”
We want, in fact, not so much a Father in Heaven as a grandfather in heaven — a senile benevolence who, as they say, “liked to see young people enjoying themselves” and whose plan for the universe was simply that it might be truly said at the end of each day, “a good time was had by all.”
His “grandfather in heaven” picture is so precise it feels like he has given form to a vague whisper of a thought that has ghosted the edges of our minds.
Lewis books are rational, not rhetorical.
You won’t find a lot of pulpit-busting sermons in Lewis’ books. While the prose is beautiful, bordering on poetic, Lewis is not making an appeal only to the heart.
Like Thomas Aquinas, Lewis lays out his arguments in completely rational and logical terms. A non-believer who does not have his heart stirred toward Christ can still see the power in Lewis’ arguments.
When he lays out his point that Christ was either God or a liar or a lunatic, you feel yourself sealed in by his airtight logic. Reason tells you that you must make a choice to either adore or abhor Jesus.
Lewis argued for all Christians.
Arguably his most famous religious writing was Mere Christianity. In it, Lewis doggedly refused to point to a particular denomination as the correct one. He did not think that distinctions were insignificant, but he thought that there was a need to fight for Christianity per se in an increasingly secular world.
This helps make Lewis accessible to all those in Christ. How often do you think a Protestant refuses to read a book because it is Catholic or a Catholic refuses to read a book because it is Protestant? But since is not promoting either Protestantism or Catholicism he can be approached by both without apprehension
C.S. Lewis is essential reading for New Evangelizers.
For all of these reasons I think that Lewis is essential to anybody who wants to be part of the New Evangelization.
In a world where people continually push the lie that faith and reason are enemies, Lewis shows them that two are merely two halves of the same coin.
The New Evangelization is about reaching out to all mankind, not just those who are trained in theology. And Lewis does that.
The New Evangelization is about making this truths of the faith clear to all who listen. And Lewis does that.
The New Evangelization includes about speaking to those without faith in the universal language or reason and logic. And Lewis does that.
Why wasn’t Lewis Catholic?
I have pondered why C.S. Lewis never became Catholic. I know that there are very strong historical reasons, but his heart and mind mingle so closely with Rome that I have always found it odd. But I think that God has worked it all out for good.
Any Protestant who reads Lewis will not only find their faith strengthened, but they will also find the Catholic Church more palpable.
Lewis argued for eternal and unchanging truths in words so plain that millions have been convinced into agreement. Since Lewis’ death in 1963, the world has become more radical in its rejection of commons sense and natural law.
As we see the corruption of modernity attack and fracture many of Protestant churches, the Catholic Church stands like a lighthouse in the gathering storm. Lewis’ words direct us to that lighthouse so that we can reach safe shore.
Walter Hooper, Lewis’ secretary and biographer who converted to the Catholic faith, was invited to an audience with John Paul II. Hooper said of the his experience it was like “meeting Aslan.” The pope was very familiar with Lewis’ writings Hooper says that at the end of the meeting “[The Holy Father] said, ‘C.S. Lewis knew what his apostolate was.’ There was a long pause, then he said, ‘And he did it!’”
Now it is our turn to know our apostolate and to do it. And we could use the help of someone like C.S. Lewis.
Copyright © 2012, W.L. Grayson