Loss of Transcendence - Lesson 18

C.S. Lewis - The Great Christian Prophet of the 20th Century

In this lesson, you will explore the life and works of C.S. Lewis, a renowned Christian author and apologist. You'll delve into the concept of transcendence and its loss in modern society, and learn about Lewis's critique of this development. Further, you'll discover Lewis's Christian vision, including his theological insights, understanding of human nature, and the role of imagination in faith. Lastly, you'll examine the lasting impact of Lewis's work and his continuing relevance for contemporary Christianity.

James Houston
Loss of Transcendence
Lesson 18
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C.S. Lewis - The Great Christian Prophet of the 20th Century

TH730-18: C.S. Lewis: Christian Prophet

I. Introduction to C.S. Lewis

A. Background and Significance

B. Major Works

II. Loss of Transcendence

A. Understanding Transcendence

B. The Role of Modernity

C. Lewis's Critique

III. Lewis's Christian Vision

A. Theological Insights

B. Human Nature and the Divine

C. The Importance of Imagination

IV. The Influence of C.S. Lewis

A. Legacy and Impact

B. Continuing Relevance

  • Explore the loss of transcendence in modernity, examining its historical and philosophical context, defining transcendence and immanence from biblical and historical perspectives, exploring the impact of various movements on theology, and considering responses to the loss of transcendence.
  • In this lesson, you will gain insight into the Greek world's origins of language and culture, the evolution of Greek history and thought, and the differences between Greek and Roman history. By examining the works of Luke as a Roman historian, you will better understand the cosmic and intimate nature of Christian history.
  • The Christian historiographical revolution redefined history as linear and purposeful, contrasting with ancient Greek, Roman, and Jewish approaches and profoundly impacting the study and writing of history.
  • In this lesson, you gain a deep understanding of the Dark Ages, the Reformation, and the factors that led to the loss and eventual restoration of transcendence in Christianity.
  • Through this lesson, you gain insights into the Reformation and Enlightenment's historical contexts, key figures, and events, as well as their impact on society, religion, and the loss of transcendence, ultimately discovering ways to reclaim transcendence in the modern world.
  • In this lesson, you gain insights into the loss of transcendence in modern society, its consequences, the role of Christianity in addressing the issue, and strategies for engaging with secular culture and promoting spiritual renewal.
  • This lesson teaches you about Radical Christianity, its importance, and how to cultivate it through deepening your relationship with God, prioritizing spiritual growth, and practicing radical love and social justice in a world experiencing a loss of transcendence.
  • Through this lesson, you grasp the factors contributing to the loss of biblical authority and learn strategies to reaffirm its importance in Christianity.
  • Through this lesson, you gain insights into contemporary biblical criticism, its methodologies, impact on theology, and learn to appreciate its contributions while recognizing its limitations.
  • By examining biblical criticism and its various forms, you gain insight into how Christians can respond thoughtfully, affirming Scripture's authority while engaging with criticisms and maintaining a commitment to truth.
  • By examining the loss of the soul, you'll understand its diminishing importance in modern life and learn to integrate science and spirituality for a holistic, transcendent perspective.
  • Through this lesson, you gain insights into classical interpretations of the soul and their interaction with Christian theology, while also understanding their modern theological implications.
  • This lesson equips you with a comprehensive understanding of the embodiment of faith, its historical development, theological implications, and practical applications in the Christian life.
  • By studying this lesson on embodiment in community, soul, and culture, you will learn how these concepts impact spiritual formation and shape your understanding of Christian faith and practice.
  • The lesson on embodiment and self-sacrifice offers insights into the New Testament, emphasizing Jesus' incarnation, the human body as the Holy Spirit's temple, and self-sacrifice as a key Christian virtue, while providing theological and practical applications.
  • This lesson equips you to understand the biblical concept of sin, the factors contributing to its loss, and offers practical steps to reintroduce sin in teaching and preaching for a more complete Christian faith.
  • Through this lesson, you gain insight into the cardinal sins and their contemporary significance, learning how to identify and combat them in modern society for personal and spiritual growth.
  • In this lesson, you gain insights into C.S. Lewis's critique of the loss of transcendence in modern society, his theological perspectives, and his emphasis on imagination in Christianity.
  • This lesson offers an in-depth analysis of the theological differences between Oxford and Cambridge and their impact on the loss of transcendence in modern theology.
  • What then did Lewis write about in The Abolition of Man? The symbol is that the immediate threat is not the abolition of man, but the abolition that there are men without chests. And he means that being without a chest is living two dimensionally and not three dimensionally. It’s not that you just live in space and time, but that you live with space, time and God or, indeed, space, time and morals. And so really it’s simply to live an amoral life. And you begin to lose your emotional life when you live with amorality.

  • Through this lesson, you gain insight into Jacques Ellul's critique of technological society, its consequences, theological implications, and the need for a countercultural response in the face of modern challenges.
  • This lesson guides you in understanding the loss of transcendence, seeking understanding, and retaining hope amidst the challenges of modern society.
  • You gain insight into Jacques Ellul's life, his views on the loss of transcendence, and the influence of his work on theology and society.
  • You will learn about the concept of technique in the modern world, its characteristics, societal effects, and the spiritual implications it holds for faith and transcendence.
  • In this lesson, you gain insights into the implications of technique on society, its challenges, and ways to respond from a biblical perspective, ultimately aiming to strengthen human connections and reclaim transcendence.
  • Through this lesson, you gain insights into the Psalms' structure, types, role in ancient worship, and their significance in modern Christian life, prayer, and spiritual growth.
  • In this lesson, you will explore the role of domestic involvement in the Psalter, its significance in Ancient Israel's worship, and the impact of the Psalms on the community, values, and beliefs.
  • Gain insights into the connection between biblical eschatology and secularity, understanding key aspects and themes while learning to reclaim the transcendent in eschatology.
  • This lesson offers insight into the theological tensions between immanence and transcendence, their impact on modern theology and worship, and the practical steps for reintegrating them into the Christian life.
  • In this lesson, you gain insight into the concepts of immanence and transcendence, their effects on theology and culture, and the importance of integrating both for a balanced Christian worldview.
  • In this lesson, you gain insight into time and eternity, God's relationship with them, and their impact on human experience and theological concepts such as soteriology, eschatology, and Christian living.
  • Gain insight into Old Testament concepts of time, the role of numbers and patterns, the significance of time in biblical prophecy, and the theological implications concerning God's sovereignty and human responsibility.
  • This lesson provides insight into the New Testament's complex understanding of time, addressing concepts such as the Kingdom of God, the present age, and eternal life, and offering guidance for Christian living.
  • In this lesson, you gain insight into the loss of transcendence in modern society and learn how to recover and foster a transcendent view within your personal faith and church life.

This course on the loss and recovery of transcendence in our contemporary culture is, of course, appropriate for all Christians, but, I think, especially for us here in North America, for the political prominence of a Christian religious culture that we’ve had in North America that makes us all the more exposed to the secularisation of contemporary Christianity. 

Dr. James Houston

Loss of Transcendence


C.S. Lewis - The Great Christian Prophet of the 20th Century

Lesson Transcript


We’re now going to consider C.S. Lewis. And we might describe him as the great Christian prophet of the 20th century. And because he represents all that was going on in the 20th century, I want to start, with your patience, by indicating what were the changes that were taking place—changes that we may call the changes of the clash of various waves of Romanticism because they’re all romantic in their source and therefore there’s a great unrealism about their understanding of the human condition.

Perhaps the sea change begins with the publication by a moral philosopher called G.E. Moore of his Principia Ethica, his Principles of Ethics, which he wrote in 1904. It was a sea change because he was arguing that morality does not lie, in the future, with religion; it lies in literature; it lies in great art. And so the way that the world was going to be ennobled was by having great literature and having great art. And so Woodrow Wilson in the Treaty of Versailles that ended World War I, he decided in this romantic spirit that the new ambassadors for a world court—and this is a predecessor, of course, to the United Nations—that that world court of the United Nations would be ruled by great humanist scholars. If he’d been alive, Goethe would have represented Germany, or in a previous century it would have been Shakespeare that would have ruled England. And I learnt all this from one of those ambassadors who was professor of Spanish at Oxford when I started doing my Spanish studies in 1945. He was Salvador de Madariaga, the King Alfonso Professor of Spanish. Now, he was, in a sense, living as a relic of that generation, but in some ways when Charles Malik was appointed the first ambassador for the United Nations, there was still that relic that you need a great philosopher or a great humanist to be able to represent the governance of peoples. That was the romance of that period.

Now, in a very different voice, again another Spanish voice is that of Ortega y Gasset, who was a Catholic existential philosopher. And he had the premonition as he wrote a book in 1920 about the League of Nations that we’re now facing what he calls in his book the revolt of the masses. It’s a stirring and prophetic voice. And what he’s alarmed about is that high culture is going to be demeaned by mass culture. In other words, he was all for the League of Nations, but he was seeing that it was going to be overwhelmed by mass culture, or what he meant by mass culture was low culture: people who didn’t have the literary standards of those who had preceded them. Well, of course, we realise he was right because the mass cultures that developed were the mass cultures of socialism and then of Nazism. And they too were to clash with each other as romantic cultures.


It was also something that was, in a sense, prefigured by the English poet in the 1870s and 80s Matthew Arnold. He writes a book called Anarchy and Culture and it’s saying that unless elite culture can sustain the world and inspire the world, we’ll enter into anarchy. One of his most poignant poems that we can still read is Dover Beach. And he is anticipating that the tide of faith has gone out and that all that is now left is a vast shingle beach. Its sterility is so poignant. And so today you can still see how a long way out the tide goes, but that tide was not coming back again. Instead, there was, as T.S. Eliot was to describe it—again in the light of culture—in 1924, it was to become the wasteland. It was going to be that land of trivialities where you spend your time stirring out your life with a coffee spoon and your only monument lost golf balls. It hasn’t gone away because today we define a senior as somebody that’s just that. His life is now trivialised on the golf course and his only monument a lost golf ball. And of course, when you think of the huge advances in medical science, how trivial can our culture become that we waste three more decades of our life that could be another career, another professional calling and it’s going to be wasted in that kind of way?

Some years ago, I read in the National Geographic—and it’s a true story—about one gentleman who had supported a new national park in the Olduvai Gorge at the site of the origins of homosapiens. And there, there are the most primitive hunter-gathering tribe that is one of the most primitive tribes on the face of the planet. It probably in its origin goes back 60 million years to homosapiens. And so he said to his buddies do you know the difference between an elder and a senior? No. Well, he said, let me take you on a safari and you’ll find out. And so they went on this safari for three or four weeks and they just followed the tribe around and they learnt as an early 21st century generation what it is to be an elder. It’s simply to carry on the noble traditions of survival with wisdom and that you pass it on to the next generation and you progress in your advancement because you are an elder. Our churches have lost elders. How many churches now have elders? They’ve evaporated. No wonder. Our seniors are on the golf course. And so this is a premonition that already Ortega y Gasset understood at the beginning of the 20th century.


Now, this heritage that we have great literature to ennoble us is really also the heritage of C.S. Lewis. His books are great literature and they’re helping us to understand that God is worthy of good literature, that God intends us to use all our skills like the Psalmist used all the skills of skilled musical instrumentation to praise the glory of God. And so we can thank God that we’ve had a generation or a century of great literature. And some of the great literature that we’ve had came from the thunders of the trenches in World War I.

I don’t know whether you’ve ever understood, but there were three great thinkers that produced great literature—or four sources of great literature—that all came from the Somme trenches of 1916. In the murderous warfare of the Somme trenches, you only came out alive because you got wounded. If you survived one series of attacks, you got killed by the other. But there were four that were wounded. One of them was Charles Williams. He was wounded and mercifully his life was saved. Another was Tolkien and he was in the Somme trenches and he got wounded and his life was saved. The third was John Macmurray, that was a great philosopher of the personal that’s influenced my life very deeply. And he was lecturing in Edinburgh just about the time that I was finishing my degree in 1945. And of course, the fourth is that C.S. Lewis was wounded and survived. Think of the literature of Charles Williams, of Tolkien and of Lewis, even if you don’t know much about John Macmurray. Well, what has happened since World War II is there’s been a levelling process that has eliminated great minds. And some of the great minds that survived World War I were, especially German minds, eliminated by Hitler. Baron von [inaudible 00:13:22] was one example of a great mind that we’ll talk about later. But there were others as well.


And so now we have the advance of what in America we call democracy, but it really is mass-mindedness. Of course, America was afraid of anything that was communism. And so, for example, I was one of the pioneers that were selected for the foundation of regional planning in Britain before the war. It was my war work to become the first geographer to be appointed to a regional planning authority. But in that age of McCarthyism, anything that was looked upon as planning was looked upon as communist. Because of the Russians having five year plans, it was assumed that if Britain had any plans that they must be very pinkish if not outright red. So it took a long time for the TVA, Tennessee Valley Authority, to become, daringly in a post-McCarthy era, regional planning. But regional planning, of course, is a very robust activity today, but you see the prejudices of our minds in different generations.


Now, one of the great scandals of G.E. Moore’s Principia Ethica was that if it’s literature and art that defines morality or sustains morality, think of what happened in what is called the Bloomsbury circle. The Bloomsbury circle referred to a group of decadent amoralists, all of them. And they were the first to introduce wife-swapping. They introduced homosexuality. They experimented transsexually. And it was all because it was great art. Virginia Woolf is the expression of this as the direct descendant of G.E. Moore’s voice and she’s already writing by about 1908, four years after Moore. And we find that these, they were great artists and scholars in their own thinking, but they were totally amoral. And so behind especially I know Oxford, so I won’t say anything about Cambridge, but the Oxford common rooms were riddled with amorality [so that what appeared to be appropriate as far as the public were concerned 00:16:56]. The head of one our colleges at All Souls was so engaged in boy sexuality that he would be condemned as a criminal today. But he was highly sophisticated and, of course, in the common room that lived in, that was quite appropriate.

The 1960s, in which I was the bursar of my own college, was an age of great scandal, but it was under the cupboard. It was all concealed behind the high society of the artificial life of Oxford. Lewis was well aware of this because he lived in the middle of that himself. And the petulance and the childishness of the behaviour of some of those dons with each other really you think is so ridiculous. The great enemy of C.S. Lewis in Magdalene College was a well-known political scientist. And you might say well, he was so against Lewis because he was articulate as a Christian. Not at all. All that he was upset about Lewis was that Lewis talked at breakfast when people had a headache from the night before when they’d been drinking too much. And his anger against Lewis was purely the pettiness of somebody who upsets your breakfast: it was childish to the extremity. And so that kind of world is the world that, fortunately, is passed or is passing, but who knows what lies behind the scenes, as we’re learning today with all the garbage that we’re hearing in the present election. Perhaps no different.


One of the things that was, therefore, significant for Lewis in this culture was that what he did at home and what he did at college were living two different worlds. At home, Lewis had befriended the [widowed mother 00:19:49] of his buddy who was killed in the Somme trenches and she came to live with him in Oxford. And whether he had an illicit relation with her in the early ’20s we don’t know, but it sounds very likely. And so Lewis as a don and Lewis in the domestic life, we just don’t know, but Mrs Moore became his bête noire because he really was totally tyrannised by her in home life. He would have to do domestic chores when he came back from being at high table. And so the life that we sometimes have seen on television like Upstairs, Downstairs, is a reality.

I was privy to this when I was bursar because I was in charge of the staff, of the scouts as we called them, and I knew that often they were much wiser men in living an ordinary, human life than some of the dons at high table and behind their backs they were laughing at the dons that were their masters because of their behaviour. And I’ll tell you a story that I had that was bursarial is that my nightmare as a novice to accounting was that in my first year of taking office as bursar, I had to keep two account systems: one that had been antiquated over several generations if not centuries and then there was a new system that was being brought in. And my nightmare was how do I balance the books between the old system and the new system? There was a huge discrepancy. And I discovered that the solution was very simple. It wasn’t an accounting problem; it was simply that the kitchen downstairs had an upstairs outlet to the street and so it was the leakage of goods that was going from the kitchen so that the chef had two jobs. He had the job as a chef and he had the job of supplying his buddies with all the food stores and alcohol that the college was importing. So it was import and [export 00:22:30] without anybody knowing until you began to look at the books.


The senior fellow who was in charge of the high table said if you shut that door, as you’re now doing, we’ll lose our chef. And if we lose our chef, you’re fired. In other words, the appearance of high table and the quality of food for appearances was far more important to him than any morality of what was going on downstairs in the kitchen. Well, by God’s mercy I was able to persuade the chef that this was something that should be dealt with. We had in a young Australian scientist, who, of course, as Australian, as an Aussie, he had no interest in high table manners or high table traditions and so he said, you know, I think the source of a lot of this theft is not just the chef, but it’s our steward of high table that’s also a thief, so can I borrow the key to his room while he’s on vacation? So we did give him the key and he opened up the old floorboards of this don’s study and, sure enough, it was stacked with stolen port from the 1920s onwards. So of course, that enabled me to keep my job because when he came back and he saw that somebody had discovered this, he knew he couldn’t fire me because he would get fired much more ignominiously than myself. But that was the kind of artificial life that arose out of this Bloomsbury artistic world of high art or high literature.

One of the things that they certainly didn’t have was any norm for a healthy family life. And what might seem quite normal and domesticated to us was totally unreal for them. That’s why we have these great spy stories that then come out of this time it’s from Cambridge. But young, dissolute Etonians, having the highest privileges of the highest education in Britain, when they went to do their studies, they were just bored because they were expected to be at Oxford or Cambridge because they were the rulers of the colonial world prior to that and that’s why our system of classics was not to study the classics, but it was how to be a good governor or a good executive under the governor of the governance of the Sudan with its remarkable civil service and the same for India, that the whole of India was really ruled by Oxford graduates who had done classics. And so as they had studied the Roman Empire, now they were imposing that on the colonial empire of India and, to a lesser extent, also the Sudan.


And it’s in that world of boredom that these privileged young men had to go and do their studies. One of them that I had was the son of the king’s private secretary Ponsonby. And I said Ponsonby, you’ll have to be sent down because you are not making any effort whatsoever to study. Oh, he said you’re asking me about this in my second year. He said don’t you realise that no Ponsonby has ever lasted more than one year at Oxford? In other words, this was totally irrelevant. And I had a Canadian who was a very colourful guy and I said you’re not going to get through your exams unless you do some study. Oh, he said, I have a totem pole in my room and that’s going to be my luck. The totem is going to help me through my exams.

This frivolity in the boredom of that period is what captured the idealism of young men to become communists. And so they began to be recruited from 1930 onwards in Cambridge. And of course, the great spy stories that you read today are the result of people who lived a bored life under the Bloomsbury kind of culture. And the result of which they were ready fodder for the communist recruiters. And so can you imagine how somebody can live a double life to the extent that for 30 years he was a member of MI6. MI6 was the overseas espionage of Britain. And so he spent 30 years as a hidden mole betraying all the secrets to the soviets and he was never discovered until late in the game. And so for his friend to say about Maclean and Burgess we supported each other in our advancement in the service and I had no clue that for 30 years my friend was betraying me as a friend as well as, of course, betraying his country at such a costly level. Well, that’s the world that Lewis lived in. Now, we didn’t know about these spies, but we did have hints of homosexuality. I think I first began to hear about it from the gossip in the common room during the 1960s. But if it hadn’t been in the common room, I would never have heard of it outside. That’s where it started.


Well, let’s look at Lewis and see how he was prepared to face this unreal world. The story of Lewis begins with tragedy. His beloved mother, who was an aristocrat and yet at the same time was a devout Christian, was secure in her identity. First of all, she was socially secure. She was aristocratic stock. But she was all more profoundly secure in her identity because she was a follower of Christ. But she died of cancer when Lewis was ten years old. He was the younger of two brothers. And he says that when his mother died, it was as if the continent of Atlantis had slipped under the waves and now there were no moorings, there were no foundations, for my life.

It didn’t help that the father was an insecure man that came from much lower social stock and was also frustrated because he was a lawyer and he wanted to be a politician instead. He had tried to enter politics, but he had failed always to get the right number of votes. So what did he do? Well, to support his own insecure identity, he wants his son to have a proper accent, that the Irish accent, which he had, was what made him inferior. And so he wanted the two boys to have a proper accent. A month after his mother died, he sent Lewis to the cheapest private school that he could see was available in England. It was very cheap because the headmaster was himself mentally insane, and three years later was locked up in a mental asylum. He said those three years were my years of Belsen. He felt as if he was in a concentration camp.


Now, when he came home, did he have a father to come home to? Not really. He tells us that as a young teenager he was caught with his brother, like Augustine was, in stripping an apple tree, or perhaps not stripping it, which was such a heinous thing that Augustine talks about, but at least stealing some apples from the orchard. And so his father, angry, roaring like a bull, put them on the carpet and started denouncing them for the wicked thing they had done. Lewis reminds us that his father forgot that he was addressing two small boys and he thought he was now in the House of Commons giving a political speech. So he’s quoting Burke and all the great political authorities and, of course, the small boys think well, father’s forgotten what he’s supposed to be doing, so they would slip away and, of course, father would suddenly remember oh, of course, I’m really speaking to them, so he’d called them back again. Can you imagine that he could ever have any relationship with a father like that?


And so when he’s wounded and he’s in a hospital in London in 1916, or maybe 1917 by this time, he says father, I’ve been here six months and you’ve never come to see me. Now I know that the public school system has rather separated us, but won’t you come? The father never replied. Need you wonder that when the [widowed mother 00:35:35] of his buddy, who had been so loving to him and was putting on him a transference of really the love that she had for her lost son, that then their own relationship became again rather distorted. You know, it’s the prophet Ezekiel and also the prophet Jeremiah that says there’s a saying common among you, ‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.’ And Lewis fully, fully went through that understanding in his youth.

All that Lewis knew that his father wanted him to do was to speak proper English. And this is touching on the other subject for another course of lectures, but I should mention it here. This is why Lewis, when as a young Christian in ‘Belsen’, was seeking to seek comfort by praying. He would recite his prayer as if he was also giving a speech, but not in the House of Commons, but a speech to God. Did I say it properly? No, he didn’t say it properly and so he would toss and turn until sleep overtook his desire to say his prayers. He couldn’t enter into the world of prayer because he had no father to lead him into the world of prayer. He would rehearse as if he was giving similar speeches and he found it was a no win situation. He could never pray properly.

And so when he was 16 ½ and left the school to get a crash programme to get into Oxford, he had a kindly Scottish tutor, who was like a father to him for the first time. But this father was an atheist. And so in the private tuition, this kindly man, by his kindness, ironically, turned him into an atheist. You see how wacky our emotions can be? And now there was an enormous relief of this metanoia in the reverse. I don’t need to pray anymore. There is no God to pray to. So no longer did he have this emotional frustration of what he called his religious festooning, that he had to have the right decoration and a proper manner and a proper dialect. There could be no personal contact with such a God. He was too remote. He was too austere.


And so it was out of this that he then volunteered for the army and crash treatment for officers from top schools. Because it was all snobbery. It was not that they were better equipped than some of the lower class people, but the upper class people were the officer people. And so within three months he was ready to go to the front trenches. Can you imagine, after three months when he scarcely knew how to handle a rifle? And of course, they were fodder for the trenches. And mercifully, it was only a few months into the battle of the Somme that he got wounded. And after six months in France, he returns to London, as I’ve said, when he writes his dad and his dad never replied. And it was only, I think, about 1923 that eventually when he had finished his degrees at Oxford that he met his father for a cold lunch together, a very cold lunch, in Oxford.

The passion of Lewis was he only had one raft across the disappeared Continent of Atlantis in this dark, heaving ocean and that was scholarship. And so fanatically he got a triple first class. His first degree was in Greek and Greek literature. He second degree was in Classical philosophy. And his third degree, which he did within one year instead of the three years that’s normal cramming and it was cramming at three years, he got a first class degree in English literature. That generation never needed a PhD. And I belonged at the end of that generation when I first went up to Oxford and my colleagues looked at me and he said why do you need a PhD? Are you not intelligent enough? Well, you can imagine how totally antithetical that is to American education where you’re illiterate without a PhD. But for us, a PhD was a come down.

The other thing that was so artificial of this life was that you never got married if you were a true scholar. We still remember seeing in the city the first woman who was a child of a married don and this only took place at the beginning of the 20th century. So when I went to my colleagues at Brasenose College where I had my first lecturership and said in 1953 I’m going to get engaged, did I get congratulations? No. with scornful faces, they sort of said Houston, we thought better of your scholarship. You’re not going to become a true scholar now that you’re getting married. I’m telling you all this so that you get the inside story about Lewis because this is his world. So of course, Lewis remained unmarried until a strange event took place when he met Joy Davidman.


She herself had been a communist in New York. She was Jewish in a secular background and she was divorced. And that’s not a very good sort of kind of curriculum vitae for marrying a wife. But she came at his feet when he had written Mere Christianity, being converted. And she brought her two small boys with her and she just wanted to lap up everything she could. And of course, being American, she didn’t wait for an introduction. She took Lewis by storm and Lewis was not used to this. I remember I was asked by—who was the chap at Wheaton that started the Wheaton collection on Lewis? I’ve forgotten his name, but he wrote to me and said would you give me an introduction to Lewis, which is what I did. But of course, we had no idea in Britain at that time there would be all this Lewis mania that was going to transpire in North America. But it was happening from that start.


Anyway, he finds that she’s going to be turned down after six months. Her visa’s expired and McCarthyism was still rampant even in Britain and so she couldn’t stay because of her communist background. And so then the unimaginable takes place because he then says well, I’ll give you a civil marriage so that you can stay in the country. Have you ever known anybody giving somebody else a civil marriage when we’re not in love, we’re not going to live together, I’m just being kind to you to give you a visa to stay? That’s what it was. So what kind of emotions does Lewis have? And so it was only when she was dying in the hospital that he falls in love with her. And now he asks the Bishop of Oxford to give them a second marriage. And the bishop says well, when you’ve had a civil marriage, that’s all the marriage you need. But he wasn’t prepared to accept that and so he twisted the arm of one of his alumni who was in the diocese of London to give them a bedside Christian marriage. So he got married twice. And then, of course, as you read A Grief Observed, you hear this heartbroken man who didn’t live much longer himself. So he got married in 1960 and then he had a second marriage three years later, so he only had really just about two years of marriage that was real love before he died in ’65. I think he died of a broken heart. Of course, he did have heart problems. He did smoke too much. All of that certainly in that generation was killing more than they ever realised. Smoking was something that people had no idea was going to produce the cancer that destroys people’s lives.


So did Lewis live what we call a normal Christian life? No way. He lived with huge inner turbulence and his creativity and the world of fantasy and the vivid imagination that he had was all brewed out of his inner loneliness. And sometimes I’ve been asked is there any difference between the mythopoeic world of Tolkien and the mythopoeic world of Lewis. And the answer is hugely different. Tolkien is echoing the guns of the Somme trenches in his mythology and he’s combining that with his imagination of Norse saga. So those are the two sources of his what we might call Tolkienian fantasy world. Lewis was using his imagination in a much more Christian way. First of all, because as a Classical scholar he wants to transform the myth of Virgil, which all his life since he was a young man he wanted to rewrite, which he did later in Till We Have Faces. But he combined that also with the world of a child.

And I think what was so saving for Lewis was after the war to have these three children in the home. Nobody’s quite written on this that I know of, but I think Lewis became a little child through the eyes of a child, through three children in the home. And so that’s why I think the most powerful of all his writings, not the most influential although they are hugely influential now, Mere Christianity has had a huge polemic, but in the long run I think the book that is most profoundly Lewis’s own journey is the Narnia tales. That’s his realm. And he’s seeing things through the theology of a child. You might say that if you want to put Biblical text on the Narnia tales, it’s Matthew 18:1: except you become as a little child, you cannot enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.

In terms of my own experience with Lewis, after my first year at Oxford when I lived with Don Wiseman, who became a famous Assyriologist and he consorted with Agatha Christie, the novelist, because it was she who funded the expeditions that he went on to discover the Assyrian ivories and, of course, explore the Assyrian language. In the second year, I went to live with the professor of Russian Nicholas Zernov, who was the founder of a new society that brought together the Eastern, Russian Orthodox Church with the Church of England. It’s called the [Fellowship 00:53:13] of St Alban & St Sergius. And so I spent seven years sharing an apartment with him and once a month when his wife, who was a dentist in London, came up to Oxford, she would prepare dinner on a Saturday evening for about 25 dons and Lewis was always there. Hugo Dyson, who had been the person that walked round the quad with Lewis when he got converted in 1933 and persuaded him, almost bullying him, by his dialogue, into the Kingdom, as he said, was also very vivacious and very quick-witted, just as humorous as Lewis, and he was also a member of that group.


So it was fascinating for me from my ultra-conservative background to be consorting with Monks of Athos and white Russians from Paris, people like Anthony Bloom that I met, and once met Thomas Merton. And the colleague who had introduced me to Nicholas has a long correspondence with Thomas Merton, so I belonged to that circle for seven years. And of course, although I was a senior member of the Christian Union at Oxford, the establishment in London were very wary of my theology. And I carried over that hangover of suspicion about Regent right up until well, just two or three decades ago. Regent is suspect because it’s a associated with this Mere Christianity that we were developing at that time. So again, misunderstanding, misjudgement, has been an awful part of my own narrative.

Well, when I knew in 1955 that Lewis had now got, for the first time, a chair at Cambridge, because he was so vocal about his Christian faith, he never got more than a lecturership in Oxford. He had to go to Cambridge to get his chair in English literature. And perhaps one other reason that I should communicate why he became so vocal about his faith was that during the war we all had to do war work. I was grade three, which meant that I was not ready to be shipped overseas, but I had to do intelligence work, which is what I did. For 18 months, I was under the supervision of this cloud of British Intelligence and they put me into the first regional planning authority for that purpose. That was my war work. But Lewis had a number of pupils, including the dean of Sydney Cathedral in Australia, and they came over as chaplains to the forces. And so his alumni who were chaplains and especially the dean in Sydney said Lewis, you must come and speak at the airfields to support the morale of the brave airmen in the Battle of Britain. And Lewis said nonsense. I’m not ordained. I’ve never preached a sermon in my life. Why do you want me? Lewis, you have to do your war work and your war work is that which in emergency you do, but you have no experience of what you’re in for.


And my war work as a student in Edinburgh was to go up on the roof of the university buildings with a bucket of sand and a helmet to remove any incendiary bombs so that we didn’t go ablaze as the bombers were going across central Scotland to bomb the shipyards of the Clyde estuary. That was war work. And so Lewis then started going to the airfields, at great inconvenience because these airfields were often in different remote parts of the country, especially on the eastern shores of the Fenland and Lincolnshire and in those areas that were remote from habitation. So it was not easy getting there. It might take a whole day to get there. And so then on Sunday he would give a feisty address as a man to a man facing death. That was the source of the BBC then asked him to broadcast these talks. He’d done a previous series of broadcast talks to give morale in the Battle of Britain for the bombing for London. And that’s his broadcast talks that he gave that were collated as The Problem of Pain. He was feeling the pain of those who had lost their homes, lost their loved ones, in the bombing raids.


So he was now right into the war with war work when the BBC asked him to broadcast these talks to the nation. He said it’s not only the airmen, but it’s the whole nation that needs to have this courage. And so that’s where Mere Christianity began. It began in the battle. The Somme battle, the Battle of Britain, all these thunderous events indicate to us that where sin abounds grace does much more abound. You think what that has meant to millions of people who’ve come to Christ through Mere Christianity. It’s an amazing documentation that he was able to give and he himself feeling so inwardly confused, utterly confused, but not confused intellectually by any means. Emotionally, yes.

Now, when I knew he had got this appointment in 1955, we had a last session together and I said you know, Lewis, you’ve never told me what was the message you want to communicate in all your writings. He said it’s all contained in three lectures that I gave to the faculty of education at Newcastle in 1941 and that is The Abolition of Man. These lectures on The Abolition of Man were a response to two young Australian literary critics who had tried to indicate there was a scientific way of doing literary criticism. And that’s when he first was aroused with fury against scientism as a form of reductionism. And so he said that’s the voice: I’m against reductionism.


And so with that, he said but I’m also very disappointed that the book that I wrote in 1953—two years earlier than this conversation—which is Till We Have Faces, he said that novel is the best thing I’ve written. And what he meant by that was that he was totally transforming Classical culture with a Christian identity. And it’s a convoluted novel and the publisher said you know, I doubt whether we will ever sell 1,000 copies. And so when I met him two years later, he said they hadn’t sold those 1,000 copies yet and I’m very disappointed. But he said that’s the best thing I’ve written yet: Till We Have Faces.