C.S. Lewis – On this Day 50 years ago…

C.S. Lewis (1898-1963)

C.S. Lewis (1898-1963)

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.”

http://www.aleteia.org/en/religion/documents/c-s-lewis-almost-a-catholic-1544001

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

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5 Responses to C.S. Lewis – On this Day 50 years ago…

  1. johnhenrycn says:

    Good post, Kathleen.

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  2. kathleen says:

    Thank you JH. 🙂

    May I ask you whether the work of C.S. Lewis had any influence on your own conversion to Catholicism?

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  3. johnhenrycn says:

    I’ve quite a few of CSL’s books, Kathleen, but except for his Letters to Malcolm, which reinforced my belief in the logic of Purgatory, but which I did not read until after converting, his influence upon me has been more in the way of reinforcing my Christian faith generally, not my Catholic faith specifically. It’s interesting to note that he was a member of The Inklings, an regular Oxford literary gathering in the 30s and 40s, sometimes referred to as the New Oxford Movement because of their affinity for Catholic points of view, if not strict Catholic doctrine.

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  4. Kristin says:

    Interesting. So he believed in the Real Presence but declined Christ’s invitation to the wedding feast because of ethnic prejudice. There is no Real Presence outside of the Catholic Church. I still admire his writing but it’s a shame he missed tbe point of it all.

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  5. kathleen says:

    Yes Kristin, I quite agree. Perhaps he would have finally converted if he had lived longer, as Joseph Pearce who wrote the Catholic World Report article surmises.
    At the end of his long list of Lewis’ “converts” to the Faith, he mentions his secretary Walter Hooper’s affirmation of this highly likely probability:

    “No overview of celebrated Lewisian converts would be complete without reference to Walter Hooper, who served as Lewis’ secretary in the final months of Lewis’ life and who has devoted himself tirelessly to promoting Lewis’ legacy for half a century since his mentor’s death. He is the author, with Roger Lancelyn Green, of one of the finest biographies of Lewis and is also the author of the Companion and Guide to Lewis’ work, an indispensable resource for scholars. He is editor of the three volumes of Lewis’ letters, a magnificent scholarly achievement in its own right.

    As someone who might realistically be considered a lifelong disciple and devotee of Lewis, it is intriguing and surely noteworthy that Hooper was received into the Catholic Church in 1988, 25 years after Lewis’ death. Considering that few people, if any, are more steeped in the ideas of Lewis, Hooper’s conversion could be seen as a projection of Lewis’ own likely destiny if he had lived long enough to see the triumph of modernism in the Anglican Church. Hooper felt that he could no longer remain an Anglican following the decision to ordain women to the priesthood, a momentous decision on the part of the Anglican hierarchy that exploded any claim that Anglicanism was part of the universal Church. Hooper’s decision was the ratification of the conclusion which Lewis had himself reached in his essay, “Priestesses in the Church,” published in 1948, and in the talk, “Fern-seed and Elephants,” given shortly before his death, as Hooper himself explains:

    [W]ould C.S. Lewis have become a Catholic had he lived? I think so…. What do you do, when, in fact, the Anglican Church becomes apostate—as it has truly become right now? Even long before the Vatican gave us the document Inter Insigniores in 1976, which is the statement on the ordination of women to the priesthood, Lewis had written about the issue as far back as 1948, in an essay called “Priestesses in the Church,” in which his arguments about the priest standing in the place of Christ predate those of the Holy See. His reasons are almost exactly those you find in the Vatican document”.”

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