Was C.S. Lewis an Anglo-Catholic?

C.S. had many deprecating things to say about the “gin-and-lace” version of Anglo-Catholicism that espoused the strange blend of Anglophilism and the copycatting of all ceremonial French and Italian. He also despised T.S. Eliot who stood as the English poster-child of high affected Anglicanism.

However, as C.S. Lewis developed his thinking, he became more and more of a High Churchman.

He believed in Baptismal Regeneration and spoke of Confirmation in a sacramental way, rather than as a mere public affirmation of faith.

Beginning in 1940, he began making his regular confession to an Anglican priest and heartily recommended the practice to others as good for the soul.

With respect to the Eucharist, Lewis most certainly believed in the Real and Abiding Presence of Christ in the Eucharistic species. He said, “Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object present to your senses.”

Also, he openly affirmed the doctrine of Purgatory. He wrote:

Our souls demand Purgatory, don’t they? Would in not break the heart if God said to us, ‘It is true, my son, that your breath smells and your rags drip with mud and slime, but we are charitable here and no one will upbraid you with these things, nor draw away from you. Enter into the joy’? Should we not reply, ‘With submission, sir, and if there is no objection, I’d rather be cleaned first.’ ‘It may hurt, you know’ – ‘Even so, sir.’

I assume that the process of purification will normally involve suffering. Partly from tradition; partly because most real good that has been done me in this life has involved it. But I don’t think the suffering is the purpose of the purgation. I can well believe that people neither much worse nor much better than I will suffer less than I or more. . . . The treatment given will be the one required, whether it hurts little or much.

My favorite image on this matter comes from the dentist’s chair. I hope that when the tooth of life is drawn and I am ‘coming round’,’ a voice will say, ‘Rinse your mouth out with this.’ This will be Purgatory. The rinsing may take longer than I can now imagine. The taste of this may be more fiery and astringent than my present sensibility could endure. But . . . it will [not] be disgusting and unhallowed.”

For C.S. Lewis, salvation was not a “once-for-all” event in the life of a believer at which “one gets saved.” Rather it was the ongoing process of crucifying and mortifying the flesh and thus conquering all existing sin one’s life by the Blood of the Christ. In other words, Justification necessitates a very real and necessary Sanctification of the believer. It’s the taking up of the cross of Christ and following Him by he power of the Holy Spirit. God’s grace forgives and transforms. This understanding is also revealed in Lewis’ affinity for the literary theme of “spiritual pilgirmage,” which is found in so many of his writings (Great Divorce, Pilgrim’s Regress, Narnia, Space Trilogy).

If this Sanctification is true and real, it must indeed reach its goal and thus the sanctification and purification of the believer must be brought to completion even if not completed in this life. This after death purification or sanctification is called “Purgatory” by C.S. Lewis and by Roman Catholics. However, like Dante before him, C.S. Lewis places Purgatory within the gates of Heaven. It is in that sense the “forecourt of Heaven.” The place where you are finally scrubbed down before entering the throne room of the King of Kings.

Anyway, as C.S. Lewis grows in importance, especially with the Narnia movies, it’s important to recognize that he falls more in line with the Catholic tradition, which he shares with his friend and mentor J.R.R. Tolkien.

You may also enjoy reading:

Reading Boethius’ The Consolation of Philosophy

Lady Philosophy instructing Boethius
about the so-called “Wheal of Fortune”

I just recently finished a course at the University of Dallas translating portions of Cicero’s De officiis. The subject led me to think more about how the Catholic Church had appropriated pre-Christian philosophy. So I started reading BoethiusThe Consolation of Philosophy, which often references Cicero’s works. This text is interesting because although Boethius was a Catholic and wrote numerous treatises in defense of the doctrine of Trinity and other such things, his Consolation of Philosophy contains no mention of Christ, despite it being his last words before being executed for trumped up charges of political treason. However, it does seem to echo Jewish wisdom literature in which the personified Lady Wisdom instructs man about avoiding vice and seeking virtue.

When I first began reading the Consolation, I was a bit put off. It begins with Boethius lamenting his poor estate in prison, when suddenly a beautiful woman appears to him — Lady Philosophy. She begins a Socratic dialogs with him, demonstrating that “fate” cannot be governed by man. Lady Fate raises men to riches, power, and health only then to take these blessings away. Thus, a man cannot depend on fate to find happiness. Happiness cannot be found in any such thing that can be taken away. Otherwise, happiness is imperfect.

The tone changes in Book III. Lady Philosophy proves that happiness cannot be found in riches, power, honors, offices, etc. Instead, happiness can only be found in that which is perfect and self-sufficient, that is to say, God Himself. Then Lady Philosophy explains that one must pray and launches into a beautiful prayer about the creation of the Universe. This creation motif is contrary to Aristotle and similar to Plato’s Timaeus. Most of all it, it is a Judeo-Christian account of creation ex nihilo. Scholars have found that some of the prayer is taken from Proclus’ commentary on Plato’s Timaeus, but there are some Scriptural echoes in it, even a phrase from 1 Corinthians that the editors missed.

I find this interesting because Dionysius the Areopagite also depends on Proclus in his own theology. Dionysius and Boethius are roughly contemporaries and both attempt to yoke the Philosophical tradition (via Proclus) to the Christian tradition. Dionysius does it through mystical/liturgical theology. Boethius does it through discursive philosophical dialog. In their era, the Church had become resistant to the venom of Gnosticism, so that Greek philosophy could then be appreciated — so long that it did not compromise the revealed truths of Christ. In other words, we have the budding of scholasticism. This is why Boethius is called “last of the Romans, first of the Scholastics”.

Speaking of BoethiusThe Consolation of Philosophy, C.S. Lewis wrote:

“To acquire a taste for it is almost to become naturalised in the Middle Ages.”

— C. S. Lewis, The Discarded Image : An Introduction to Medieval and Renaissance Literature (1964) 75.

More on Boethius later.

Prince Caspian – I just saw the new movie

In order to celebrate my having finished writing all my papers and my last final today, my wife and I went to dinner and saw The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian.

It was pretty good. It’s been about a year or more since I again read the novel and there were MANY sequences in the movie that I do not recall from the book. It was entertaining and the “crypt chapel” built over the stone altar of Aslan was incredible.

If you’re a Narnia fanatic, you’ll probably be frustrated with the changes, but if you just want to be entertained, it’s great.