Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Lewis Letters (2)

Cindy Mercer Photography

I continue to read through The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Volume III: Narnia, Cambridge, and Joy 1950-1963, ed. Walter Hooper (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 2007). The three HarperCollins volumes contain over 3500 pages of letters.

Lewis's literary output was astounding. During the period that the Volume III letters were written he conducted daily tutorials with students, gave lectures, and finished writing English Literature in the Sixteenth Century Excluding Drama, for which he read the complete works of around 200 authors, including, according to Walter Hooper, the entire works of Thomas More, Martin Luther, John Calvin, and William Tyndale. He also produced Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life, Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold, Reflections on the Psalms, A Grief Observed, Studies in Words, The Four Loves, and An Experiment in Criticism.
He wrote the seven Narnian Chronicles for fun in his "spare time."


“I will indeed pray for you; I did so already, but will do so more. You have made a great sacrifice for conscience’ sake. Such things, we may be sure enrich one: but God knows it doesn’t feel like it at the time. It did not, even for Our Lord Himself, in Gethsemane. I always try to remember what [George] MacDonald said, ‘The Son of God died not that we might not suffer but that our sufferings might become like His.’” 15 November 1956, p. 806.

Tho’ horrified by your sufferings, I am overjoyed at the blessed change in your attitude about death. This is a bigger stride forward than perhaps you yourself know. For you were rather badly wrong on the subject. . . . As far as weakness allows I hope, now that you know you are forgiven, you will spend most of your remaining strength in forgiving. Lay all the old resentments down at the wounded feet of Christ. I have had dozens of blood transfusions in the last two years and know only too well the horrid—and long—moments during which they are poking about to find the vein. And then you think they’ve really got in at last and it turns out that they haven’t. (Is there an allegory here? The approaches of Grace often hurt because the spiritual vein in us hides itself from the celestial surgeon?). But oh, I do pity you for waking up and finding yourself still on the wrong side of the door! How awful it must have been for Lazarus who had actually died, got it all over, and then was brought back—to go through it all, I suppose, a few years later. I think he, not St. Stephen, ought really to be celebrated as the first martyr.” 25 June 1963, pp. 1431-1432.

“Keep clear of Psychical Researchers.” 31 December 1953, p. 399.

Struggling with Doctrine

“The Bible itself gives us one short prayer which is suitable for all who are struggling with the beliefs and doctrines. It is: ‘Lord I believe, help Thou my unbelief.’ Would something of this sort be any good?: Almighty God, who art the father of lights and who hast promised by the thy dear Son that all who do thy will shall know thy doctrine: give me grace so to live that by daily obedience I daily increase in faith and in the understanding of thy Holy Word, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.” 18 March 1952, p. 172.

Hell-Fire Preaching

“I had no idea your parsons preached Hell-fire; indeed I thought the ordinary presentation of Christianity with you was quite as milk-and-watery as with us, if not more so. We could do with a bit more Hell fire over here.” 22 March 1952, p. 172.

The Holy Spirit

“Accept these sensations with thankfulness as birthday cards from God, but remember that they are only greetings, not the real gift. I mean, the sensations are not the real thing. The real thing is the gift of the Holy Spirit which can’t usually be—perhaps not ever—experienced as a sensation or emotion. . . . It will be there when you can’t feel it. May even be most operative when you can feel it least.” 15 May 1952, p. 191.

“Westerners preached Christ with our lips, with our actions we brought the slavery of Mammon. We are more guilty than the infidels: for to those that know the will of God and do it not, the greater the punishment. Now the only refuge lies of contrition and prayer. Long have we erred. In reading the history of Europe, its destructive succession of wars, of avarice, of fratricidal persecutions of Christians by Christians, of luxury, of gluttony, of pride, who could detect any but the rarest traces of the Holy Spirit?” 7 January 1953, p. 278.

Pilgrim’s Regress, Lewis’s First “Christian” Book

“I don’t wonder that you get fogged in Pilgrim’s Regress. It was my first religious book and I didn’t then know how to make things easy. I was not even trying to very much, because those days I never dreamed I would become a ‘popular’ author and hoped for no readers outside a small ‘highbrow’ circle.” 19 January 1953, pp. 282-283.

American Politics

“I have always thought of how the greatest of all dangers to your country is the fear that politics were not in the hands of your best types and that this, in the long run, might prove ruinous.” 26 January 1953, p. 286.

Joseph Stalin

“The Russian . . . grabs things here and grabs thing there when he finds them unguarded. I think there’s a real chance that by rearmament and resistance at minor points we just might prevent it coming to a real show-down. But heaven knows I am as ill qualified as anyone in the world to have an opinion. At any rate both your country and mine have twice in our lifetime tried the recipe of appeasing an aggressor and it didn’t work on either occasion: so that it seems sense to try the other this time.” 3 April 1952, pp. 178-179.

Lewis was from Northern Ireland

“I have many calls upon my time, and my own Ireland generally lures me to it when I can take a holiday.” 29 April 1952, p. 185.


“What Aslan meant when he said he had died is, in one sense, plain enough. Read the earlier book in the series called The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, and you will find the full story how he was killed by the White Witch and come to life again. When you have read that, I think you will probably see that there is deeper meaning behind it. The whole Narnian story is about Christ.” 5 March 1961, p. 1244.

Ordination Exams

“In both [England and America] an essential part of the ordination exam ought to be a passage from some recognized theological work set for translation into vulgar English—just like doing Latin prose. Failure on this exam should mean failure on the whole exam. It is absolutely disgraceful that we expect missionaries to the Bantus to learn Bantu but never ask whether our missionaries to the Americans or English can speak American or English. Any fool can write learned language. The vernacular is the real test. If you can’t turn your faith into it, then either you don’t understand it or you don’t believe it.” Published in The Christian Century, 31 December 1958, pp. 1006-1007.


Josh Manley said...


Great posts. I hope you will keep these coming. I have yet to get this volume. Do you have anything Lewis has written on Reformed Theology?

Josh Manley
Washington, D.C.

jazzycat said...

Great photo.....

Bradford Mercer said...


Lewis does not say much about "Reformed" theology as such. He sees himself as a layman emphasizing "mere" Christianity in the post-Christian Western world. He did, however, very much appreciate John Bunyan's writings, and he quotes Calvin and Luther favorably.