Thursday, September 01, 2011

Two Excellent Quotes by C. S. Lewis on the Roman Catholic Church

Some Roman Catholics like to claim C. S. Lewis as their friend. However, these two quotes would seem to destroy whatever other evidence there is that he was sympathetic to the Roman Catholic Church, even though he seemed to have some strange views on some things, like a kind of purgatory.

C. S. Lewis wrote:

“The real reason why I cannot be in communion with you [Catholics] is not my disagreement with this or that Roman doctrine [but see his quote below on some disagreements with several Roman Catholic doctrines], but that to accept your Church means, not to accept a given body of doctrine, but to accept in advance any doctrine your Church hereafter produces. It is like being asked to agree not only to what a man has said but also to what he is going to say.”

“Christian Reunion”, in Christian Reunion and Other Essays, edited by Walter Hooper, London: Collins, 1990, p. 17-18. [My emphasis and comments in brackets.]

“The Roman Church where it differs from this universal tradition and specially from apostolic Christianity I reject. Thus their theology about the Blessed Virgin Mary I reject because it seems utterly foreign to the New Testament; where indeed the words “Blessed is the womb that bore thee” receive a rejoinder pointing in exactly the opposite direction. Their papalism seems equally foreign to the attitude of St. Paul toward St. Peter in the epistles. The doctrine of Transubstantiation insists on defining in a way which the New Testament seems to me not to countenance. In a word, the whole set-up of modern Romanism seems to me to be as much a provincial or local variation from the central, ancient tradition as any particular Protestant sect is. I must therefore reject their claim: though this, of course, does not mean rejecting particular things they say.”

June 16, 1945
Letter of C. S. Lewis to H. Lyman Stebbins, “The Boldness of a Stranger”

Both of these have been quoted here at Beggar's All before, in separate posts. I thought it good to bring both of them together.

Addendum: John Piper did an excellent job of summing up the good in C. S. Lewis, and the not so good. We must use discernment in all things. When Lewis got it right, he was an excellent communicator of Christianity for many people, and much of his work helped me immensely as a young Christian. Piper says that Lewis never explained why he did not become Roman Catholic, however, I think those 2 quotes above explain why. Piper probably did not know about those quotes, as they are hard to find.


Nick said...

I don't see the big deal either way.

While all agree that Lewis has written some brilliant stuff, the notion of "mere Christianity" doesn't sit well with a lot of the classically Reformed or Catholic crowds. I've never really seen Lewis engage in any theology beyond the surface level, or if he does it's "Christianity in general" that's good but not sufficient to feed those already Christian. I don't recall seeing him ever quoted as exegeting some controversial text of Scripture and instead he seems to always be on the philosophical realm.

While a case could be made that he's far closer to Catholicism than to Calvinism, I've never been the type to label him "almost Catholic" or "Catholic in secret". Too often he seemed to prefer sitting on the fence, and this point is precisely where GK Chesterton's courage and brilliance outshines him.

Ken said...

That's why I also linked to John Piper's message of showing both the good and bad in Lewis. I still get a lot of benefit from his books, especially Mere Christianity (the chapter on Pride as the great sin, and "right and wrong as a clue to the meaning of the Universe" are worth the whole book), and The Screwtape Letters, and several others. But he is not infallible. We can take the good and throw away the bones, in those areas that are wrong. Piper rightly points out Lewis’ problems. You are correct, he doesn't go deep into exegesis.

I think those 2 quotes show that he thought that Roman Catholicism has enough problems in it that is enough to keep all thinking and biblical Evangelicals out of it; at least it should, despite the fact that some have decided “to swim the Tiber”; sadly.

Brigitte said...

C.S.Lewis said many things very well. These quotes about Roman Catholicism included.

John Lollard said...

The first book writen after his conversion is called Pilgrim's Regress, and is basically an allegory of the intellectual landscape at the time Lewis became a Christian, and a young man traveling from various worldviews. At one point, the young man meets a thin, pale man named Mr. Angular who describes himself as Catholic and lives miles up in the freezing north on a rock table unable to farm a living in the thin veil of soil around his shack, who goes on about the geometric perfection of his potted meat when asked how he intends to survive. I think it's a very well written book (even if you would disagree with some of his theology). I could find exact quotes on the "Catholic" person if that'd do any good.

In Christ

Nick said...

But by that same argument, he also said enough to keep all thinking and biblical Evangelicals out of Calvinism. Remember, he was not a friend to them either.

In other words, he cannot be used as someone who keeps people out of Catholicism while somehow giving them grounds to enter Calvinism.

Brigitte said...

Nick, which would you adduce?