On this day 50 years ago, 22nd November 1963, three great men died. The first was C.S. Lewis at his Oxford home in England; one hour later J.F. Kennedy, President of the U.S.A., was assassinated in Dallas, Texas; and a few hours later, Aldous Huxley, author of the widely acclaimed futuristic novel “Brave New World”, died in Los Angeles.
As everyone knows, the impact the assassination of the US President had on the world was enormous, totally eclipsing the deaths of the two famous authors.
However, whereas Aldous Huxley was only well known for one celebrated book, C.S. Lewis was a prolific author and writer, and is considered to be one of the most famous authors of the twentieth century. He was also a tremendously important figure in the Catholic world, though the irony is, C.S. Lewis was not a Catholic himself.
What impeded C.S. Lewis – this talented, spiritual Christian writer – from becoming a Catholic?
Most would say that the answer lies in his “Ulsterism”. Or, in other words, the ingrained Northern Irish Protestant and anti-Catholic bias he was brought up in. This is a paradox that can only be explained by the strong resistance “bias” plays in the mind of men.
One of his own “converts” to Catholicism, Fr. Dwight Longnecker, asks: “If he was so devoted to his Christian faith, and was clearly very highly intelligent and well educated, wouldn’t he have seen the breadth, beauty, and truth of the Catholic faith and wish to follow in the footsteps of G. K. Chesterton and join his good friend J. R. R. Tolkien in the Fellowship of the Faith?” After a description of the history of the bitter conflicts in Northern Ireland, Fr. Longnecker goes on to say: “The northern Irish Protestants despised and feared the southern Irish Catholics and vice versa. Lewis was born into a Protestant family in the midst of this historical setting in 1897 in Ulster, Northern Ireland. A deep and abiding distrust of all things Catholic was thus bred into him from generations of Protestant ancestry. For Lewis to become Catholic was as much of a paradigm shift as it would be for a Palestinian to convert to Judaism.”
Yet the reality is that Lewis, after his conversion to Christianity from Atheism, grew further and further away from his Protestant roots, heading slowly but surely towards sacramental, traditional Catholic values. He became a “Catholic at heart” in very many ways… but not all. He never fully accepted the importance of Mary, the Mother of God, and he had reservations about the role of the Papacy. Even so, the deep Catholic thought that runs throughout his many books, plays and writings has been the catalyst that has drawn numerous converts into the Catholic Church. This is his most powerful, incredible and remarkable legacy!
The Catholic World Report describes the powerful influence he had in bringing converts into the Church thus:
“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.”
Therefore Catholics will continue to love C.S. Lewis and be grateful for his Catholic Christian insights that have inspired millions of readers, and for bringing many of them to embrace Catholicism.
Do continue reading about the long list of eminent Catholic converts – many of them prominent figures in the world today – and how they were motivated by this exceptional figure: http://www.catholicworldreport.com/Item/2724/cs_lewis_and_catholic_converts.aspx