Sunday, 1 February 2015

C.S "Patrimony" Lewis...

"So again I can't help wondering at the insensitivity of this scholar who, in his Inaugural Lecture 'De Descriptione Temporum,' claims to speak as a native of mediaeval England and to know 'his way about his father's house' (p.13), yet has no appreciation of her whom the people of the Middle Ages, including Dante and Chaucer, hailed as their queen and mother. Not that he has anything bad to say against her or the mediaeval devotion to her. He merely passes her over in silence. And in this silence I can't help feeling not so much reverence, or mere indifference, as suppression of a deep Protestant prejudice. For him as a Protestant the Virgin Mary has no place in 'mere Christianity,' despite the mention of her in the Apostle's Creed. Nor does he admit her to what he calls, in his Preface to Paradise Lost, 'the great central tradition' (p.92)...

"But then, considering how impressive is the development of the doctrine and cult of Our Lady in Christian history, in both the Greek and the Latin Church, not only in the MIddle Ages but well into the Renaissance and Baroque periods, any exposition of 'mere Christianity' without mention of her is bound to be Protestant, or even Puritan, and so cut off from 'the great central tradition' of the Church." (Peter Milward's A Challenge to C.S Lewis, p.61).

Many people assume that it was Lewis himself who coined the phrase "mere Christianity." Closer inspection of ecclesiastical literature reveals that the phrase is used by Richard Baxter, that eminent Puritan divine who was offered the bishopric of Hereford and turned it down, in Church-history of the Government of Bishops and Their Councils. We're all "mere Christians," but there is more to Christianity than the great central traditions and I still share Tolkien's disdain for Lewis' theological works. Lewis' personal beliefs will forever be a mystery, at least to me. He must have been a very troubled man.


  1. I am not sure there is much of a mystery here - Lewis explicitly accepted Article VI, and wrote appreciatively of some Puritans. Hooker was the Doctor for Lewis, who supplemented and balanced his Ulster Protestantism in Anglo-Catholicism, but never left it behind. I find no evidence whatsoever that he was ever confronted with the argument for Tradition in the liturgy, for example, which is a shame: a huge blindspot in a mind that would have been one of its most lucid exponents. But a troubled man? I'm not sure where you see that in his works or his biography.

    1. I say troubled because he was a Puritan who revered the blessed Sacrament, was friends with an Anglican nun (Sister Penelope) and an Italian Catholic priest (Fr Giovanni Calabria), went to confession and surrounded himself with Roman Catholics; but, in the words of Tolkien, "remained an Ulster Protestant."

  2. I think Tolkien was wilfully obtuse about Lewis's apologetics (in criticising him for not leaving theology to the theologians) when Lewis was trying to explain the content of the Faith as both rational and real, to a nation which had already become post-Christian & a church already infected with liberalism. Traditional belief about Mary aren't part of apologetics, the praeparatio evangelica that he was engaged in.

    I would turn the evidence of his friendships round the other way, and suggest that the insight and vital depth of his "mere Christianity" was the reason why he had plenty of Catholic friends: they recognised the portrait he had drawn and saw an ally against liberalism. He was no different than his other Anglican friends, who were comfortable in Anglicanism, but who promoted very orthodox, catholic belief and practice, such as Dorothy Sayers, Austin Farrer or Charles Williams.

    I would also suggest that one might also raise another question - is Ulster Protestantism so far away from orthodoxy as all that? Paradoxically, the depth of its reaction against Catholicism means that is far more in touch with it, than are some vaguely ecumenical Protestants.