Three Faces of CS Lewis  

Posted by Joe Rawls

When I was a grad student at UCLA I liked to browse at Logos bookstore in Westwood Village. There was an entire section devoted to books by and about CS Lewis. The latter were mostly by evangelical writers who tended to assume that Lewis' "Mere Christianity" was a fairly straightforward expression of evangelical Protestantism. The less critical of these folks transformed Lewis into a sort of born-again saint. This hagiographical attitude extends even to Lewis' physical memorabilia. The Wheaton College library has a Lewis Room which contains, among other artifacts, Lewis' writing table from his college rooms at Magdalen, and, most significantly, the free-standing closet or wardrobe from Little Lea, his childhood home in Belfast. This was almost certainly the prototype for the magical closet in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. A similar piece of Lewisian furniture has migrated to Westmont College, another evangelical institution located in Montecito, California, not too far from where I live. One cannot help thinking of the late medieval cult of relics and of the largely cyclical nature of church history.

Be that as it may, Lewis occupies a well-deserved place in the evangelical canon. However, a quest for the historical Lewis reveals other, more exotic, facets of his spiritual personality. AN Wilson's occasionally problematic CS Lewis: A Biography (Norton, 1990) nonetheless clearly documents that Lewis' Anglicanism had a distinctly high-church, even Catholic cast. Each Sunday he attended the early Eucharist at his parish church in Headington, which was run by the Cowley Fathers, an Anglican religious order. One of these priests served as his spiritual director for a number of years. Lewis also engaged in the definitely unevangelical practice of regularly making a private confession to this same priest.

Stretching the envelope even more is an article by Orthodox author Chris Jensen which appears in Road to Emmaus, an Orthodox journal. "Shine as the Sun" presents in convincing detail Lewis' support of the Eastern Christian doctrine of theosis. As defined by Jensen, theosis is

...the summit of a gradual process by which human beings are reintegrated into the life of God, beginning with the restoration of God's image through baptism and continuing with purification of the heart and illumination by divine the ineffable union of the soul with God. Even at this lofty summit, we're told that the state of perfection is relative and not absolute; it is dynamic not static, forever ascending 'from glory to glory' (2Cor 3:18). In the words of St Gregory of Nissa, "True perfection never stands still but ever grows toward the better". This notion of epektasis, of eternal life as unending infinite progress, is found in Church Fathers like St Irenaeus and St Maximos the Confessor and is echoed memorably by Lewis himself in the final passage of The Last Battle.

I cannot do full justice to Jensen's meaty essay in this small space, but will close with a couple of quotes from Mere Christianity which he cites in claiming Lewis as an "anonymous Orthodox":

God never meant man to be a purely spiritual creature. That is why He uses material things like bread and wine to put the new life into us. We may think this rather crude and unscriptural. God does not: He invented eating. He likes matter. He invented it (p 65).

You must realize from the outset that the goal towards which [God] is beginning to guide you is absolute perfection; and no power in the whole universe, except you yourself, can prevent Him from taking you to that goal...if we let Him--for we can prevent Him, if we choose--He will make the feeblest and filthiest of us into a god or goddess, a dazzling, radiant immortal creature, pulsating all through with such energy and joy and wisdom and love such as we cannot now imagine (pp 174, 176).

This entry was posted on Sunday, March 1, 2009 at Sunday, March 01, 2009 . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .


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