Saturday, September 1, 2012

C. S. Lewis and Anglicanism


Lyle Dorsett has a lot of insights into the Anglicanism of C. S. Lewis, of which he writes in his book Seeking the Secret Place - The Spiritual Formation of C. S. Lewis. He reminds us firstly of Lewis' statement in the Preface of Mere Christianity that he was neither high nor low Anglican, just an ordinary layman in the Church. He did have a high regard for the Anglican tradition. This is evident in his book Letters to Malcolm and personal letters. Dorsett says that the safest thing to call Lewis is a Protestant, since the Anglican Church was so diverse.

He was not anti-Puritan but critical of Puritans. He especially did not like their delving into predestination. Lewis considered the topic a "meaningless question." In a margin note of his copy of the Book of Common Prayer, Lewis wrote beside Article XIII, "doctrine never to be discussed..." He also did not like the preoccupation many Puritans had with our sinfulness as Christians. He found it unhealthy. Lewis is thus more of a Methodist when it comes to the issue. He was also close to Methodism in his idea of holiness. But, as alluded above, he ultimately really like the "middle ground" of Hooker and Jeremy Taylor.

Lewis did strongly object to the modernism in the Anglican Church. He was a great apologist of orthodoxy. He found both evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics on solid common ground by virtue of being super-naturalists.

Dorsett writes: For the most part, C. S. Lewis spent little time studying, analyzing, or criticizing the factions in the Anglican Church [though I would not include the modernist faction here]. Instead, he behaved like a member of a good family - giving what he could to encourage others and taking what was offered to him. He lived in the church and loved it, and from it he drew much of his spiritual vitality. Being in the church was to Lewis as important to healthy spiritual development as being in a family is to emotional and social health. (pp. 78,79).

According to Harry Blamires, in a conversation Dorsett had with him, "Lewis was at times quite high on the Anglican spectrum and at other times rather low. It all depended upon the doctrine and the practice." (p.97). On the high spectrum, Lewis practiced confession and he believed in Purgatory (See Letters to Malcolm, p. 108, - Dante's version of Purgatory, not the later version). However, when it came to Mary and the pope, he was thoroughly biblical. Contrary to what some have said, Lewis remained steadily against becoming a Roman Catholic to the end.

When I read Lewis on Purgatory and also learn of the kind of spiritual literature he favoured, it seems to me that he was heavily influenced by his earlier philosophical and medieval reading, especially the latter. He came into Christianity as a medievalist and he never seems to have lost much of his taste for that era of our history and thought. Medieval spirituality appealed to him. This was balanced by his Protestant upbringing and what he also learned from his reading of Protestants, such as Milton, Hooker, etc. But when you read his argument for Purgatory, it is philosophical, not biblical. He really likes Dante and so he sticks with him.

Though Lewis respected and appreciated the Anglican Church, he remained "his own man." I think he lacked some biblical consistency with his beliefs, but his "mere Christianity" approach, and his decided appreciation for the bulk of Anglican tradition, make him someone we Anglicans continue to hold in high regard.

D. Beckmann

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