RETRO: October 22nd – 31st

The following is part of a series reflecting on the life of C.S. Lewis. This is accomplished by summarizing various events or happenings during his lifetime for the noted period and may include significant events related to him after his death.

Highlights for the final third of October (22nd – 31st) include: First sermon preached, three significant posthumous books and Lewis defines “the great sin.”

There are many hats that C.S. Lewis wore: children’s author, Christian apologist, and literary critic being the three most common realms people are familiar with. While similar to his role as a defender of the faith, many are not aware that he also spoke on Sunday mornings several times in his life. The very first occurred on the 22nd in 1939 at St. Mary’s the Virgin in Oxford. While Lewis had two fictional works that shared his faith at the time, this was before he had any of his well-known books published. The title of the message that day was “None Other Gods: Culture in War-Time.” However, today we know the sermon as “Learning in War-Time.” It is easiest to find in the short collection entitled The Weight of Glory.

The Weight of GloryHowever, before becoming available there it was collected in Famous English Sermons in 1940. There it actually bore a different title. It was called “The Christian in Danger,” which is also how it was reprinted as an individual booklet by Student Christian Movement in 1939. As you will recall, at the time this sermon was given war had just broken out; a war soon to be called World War II. The primary audience hearing Lewis were students at Oxford. The focus of his message was centered on how they should respond to the growing war. Was it worth starting work on a degree that might be interrupted by these outside events? Lewis pointed out (and this is what makes the piece timeless) that facing a war doesn’t change a broader question raised by the current events; why pursue learning when you consider the more important “eternal issues” such as the fact that there are “creatures who are every moment advancing either to heaven or to hell?”

Two books released after his death during this time relate to his poetry. On the 26th in 1964 Poems came out. Then on the 27th in 1969 Narrative Poems was published. The first is a volume that collects nearly all of his shorter poems. During his life they had been available in various publications. The latter title, as you may recall if you read the previous retrospective column, contains the entire contents of Dymer, the second book published by Lewis that was reprinted in October, 1950. Letters to ChildrenThe other selections are “Launcelot,” “The Nameless Isle” and “The Queen of Drum.” Another book, Letters to Children came out in the UK on the 31st in 1985, but it was first released in the US six months earlier. As you can guess from the title, it is a collection of letters he wrote to children. When Lewis wrote these he never imagined they would be viewed by others, yet despite being written to a specific (and much younger) individual much of what he said can be applied to others.

Another broadcast from the Christian Behaviour radio series was done live on the BBC on the 25th in 1942. At the time it was simply known as the sixth talk, but when published in Christian Behaviour and Mere Christianity as chapter eight it was called “The Great Sin.” If you recall Lewis had already dealt with the topic of sex, so unlike some who might thing the worse sin has to do with that, he believed pride was the worst. In fact he said “unchastity, anger, greed, drunkenness, and all that, are mere fleabites in comparison…[pride] is the complete anti-God state of mind.”

On the 24th in 1941 the twenty-sixth letter from Screwtape to Wormwood was published in The Guardian. It had the subtitle of “The Generous Conflict Illusion.” Before explaining this concept, Screwtape discusses unselfishness, a term that is used in place of the more positive “charity.” Those familiar with Lewis’s sermon “The Weight of Glory” will notice that he began that talk with similar comments on unselfishness and love. On the 31st in 1941 the twenty-seventh letter by Screwtape was released. The subtitle for it was “The Historical Point of View.” In it we learn of a concept that Lewis would later call “chronological snobbery,” which is the notion that ideas from previous generations are unless because they are old (and thus out of date). Both letters are found in The Screwtape Letters that has a recently released an Annotated Edition.

Present ConcernsFinally, a few other shorter works were available during the last third of this month. “Talking about Bicycles” was a piece initially published in the October, 1946 issue of Resistance and is best available in Present Concerns. Lewis present a discuss with a friend about some periods the person had passed through in relation to bicycles and how they can be applied to other aspects in life. “A Note on Jane Austen” came out in the October, 1954 issue of Essays in Criticism and focused on four novels by Austen. It is reprinted in Selected Literary Essays.

“Before We Can Communicate” is an essay published in the October, 1961 issue of Breakthrough that can be best found in God in the Dock. Lewis discussed the challenge of Christians who use the same words but hold different meanings to those words.  “Canonization” is a letter printed in Church Times on the 24th in 1952 that dealt with the question of canonization of saints in the Anglican communion that he was a member of. It is reprinted in God in the Dock. Lastly, “The Dethronement of Power” was in Time and Tide on the 22nd in 1954 and is found as “Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings” in On Stories as the second half of that book review.


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