RETROSPECT: February 19th – 29th

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.

Screwtape and Thoast (1961)Highlights for the final third of February (19th – 29th) include: The beginning of his fourth and final BBC series of talks, a landmark lecture series that would become one of his most insightful works aimed at a mainstream audience, and a new edition of The Screwtape Letters containing a second preface.

The fourth and final BBC radio series kicked off on the 22nd in 1944. The series itself was first called “Beyond Personality” and the first talk was entitled “Making and Begetting.” However, on the 24th the text was reprinted in The Listener and it was called “The Map and the Ocean.” This was the first time Lewis’s broadcasts were made available before being collected in a book.

The two different titles for the fourth series debut provides some hints at what was presented by Lewis. He noted the words “begetting” or “begotten” are not used today, but its use in the creeds is important to underscore what is meant when the statement Jesus was “begotten, not created” is made. The other title was likely chosen by The Listener because Lewis opens his talk by drawing a parallel between Theology and a map.  He states there is a vast difference between experiencing the ocean in person and through a map, but the map does contain the combined experience of “hundreds and thousands of people.” Likewise, Theology can seem rather dry compared to a firsthand experience with God, however, Theology is useful in the same way a map is meant to be.

The second talk from this initial BBC series was given a week later, on the 29th (obviously 1944 was a leap year). Lewis’s words were again published two days later in The Listener. In this piece, entitled “The Three-Personal God,” Lewis summarizes his last talk before getting into the question of believing in a personal God, while understanding that He is actually beyond personality. Additionally Lewis suggests that theology is in some ways like an “experimental science,” and later that “if a man’s self is not kept clean and bright, his glimpse of God will be blurred.” As you may recall this material is now part of Mere Christianity.

Abolition of Man (from Arend Smilde)A year earlier, in 1943, Lewis spoke at the University of Durham (by request) where he gave the Riddell Memorial Lectures that year. He delivered them over the course of three evenings (24th, 25th and 26th). All three talks were released in the book, The Abolition of Man (see January 1st-11th post). As noted above, the speeches were given before a mainstream audience.

The debut talk covers the topic of Natural Law and is similar to material presented in the first book of Mere Christianity. However, it stops short of suggesting religious implications. “Men without Chests” finds Lewis chiefly using “The Green Book” as an example of a text advocating moral relativism even though it is an English textbook.  Lewis goes on to defend what he chooses to call the Tao. For him “It is the doctrine of objective value, the belief that certain attitudes are really true, and others really false, to the kind of thing the universe is and the kind of things we are.” Without believing this truth people are unable to act virtuously because they are being ask to produce something without having a means (the organ) to generate it.

In the second talk, “The Way,” Lewis continues to use “The Green Book” as a springboard to persist in his defense of objective values. He notes the authors of that book want to present a new set of values that avoids such a bad word as “good” to replace it with other terms that actually become meaningless. He also questions the advice to follow one’s instinct by saying, “Telling us to obey Instinct is like telling us to obey ‘people’. People say different things: so do instincts. Our instincts are at war.”

The final talk begins by examining humanity’s so-called “conquest of Nature.” Lewis immediately points out that “what we call Man’s power over Nature turns out to be a power exercised by some men over other men with Nature as its instrument.” Near the end of the address he admits that some will think he is against science, but he refutes the claim. He also makes a statement that was sure to shock his audience then (and it still does today): “The serious magical endeavour and the serious scientific endeavour are twins: one was sickly and died, the other strong and throve. But they were twins.”

If you’ve read my last two post you are likely aware that The Screwtape Letters had been released several times already in February over the years. A new edition came out that included an additional piece from the senior demon on the 27th in 1961; The Screwtape Letters and Screwtape Proposes a Toast. This contained a new and longer preface that is sometimes found as a postscript in other editions of the book. In it, Lewis first notes that someone canceled his subscription to The Guardian (where the letters were first available) because the advice was “positively diabolical.” He then acknowledged the great number of copies that had sold, but that it doesn’t mean people have read it. One he had heard who had, however, chose it because it was so short! More interestingly, he goes in detail about a common question he had been asked because of the book, whether or not he believed in “the Devil.” He felt a better question was if he believed “in devils.” That is, “God has no opposite” and so, demons are fallen angels, in which he clearly believed.

God In The DockGiven Lewis’s great ability to defend the Christian faith some are surprised that he didn’t speak out against evolution very much (or clearly to some). On the 21st this week he dealt with this topic in a brief essay called, “Who Was Right – Dream Lecturer or Real Lecturer?” It was published in The Coventry Evening Telegraph, but when released in God in the Dock the title was changed to “Two Lectures.” In addition to being short, the piece doesn’t come out and say evolution is wrong, but presents two opposing sides by recalling some points from a lecture he heard and then the telling of a dream where the lecturer “was saying all the wrong things.” But then he questions if this is true and asks us to consider the reverse. Lewis concludes by posing the question, “Is it not equally reasonable to look outside Nature for the real Originator of the natural order?”

The sixteenth installment from what we know as The Great Divorce was published on the 23rd in 1945. This is the first third of what is now the eleventh chapter. It features a mother wanting to see her son, Michael and not understanding why she can’t at the moment. It is revealed that she is “treating God only as a means to Michael” and that she needs to discover how “to want God for His own sake.”

They Ask for a PaperThere were also two other books that came out during this period. On the 26th in 1962 a collection of essays, They Asked for a Paper was published. It is now out of print. These twelve writings were all papers or addresses he had given. Half of them are found in either The Weight of Glory (1980 revised version), or The World’s Last Night. They are:

          • “Lilies That Fester”
          • “The Inner Ring”
          • “Is Theology Poetry?“
          • “Transposition”
          • “On Obstinacy in Belief”
          • “The Weight of Glory”

The other book is The Dark Tower and Other Stories, which was released on the 28th in 1977. This was nearly fourteen years after Lewis’s death and some have questioned the material it contains. The namesake piece is a fragment from a novel that is attributed to Lewis and related to the Space Trilogy (also called the Ransom Trilogy). Five other selections are contained therein, including “The Man Born Blind” which has since been discovered to be a draft of a story now known simply as “Light” and discussed at length by Dr. Charlie Starr in Light: C. S. Lewis’s First and Final Short Story.

Finally, Lewis wrote to Sister Penelope on the 19th in 1944 thanking her for a copy of her book that was a translation of Saint Athanasius’s The Incarnation of the Word of God. This is worth mentioning because Lewis had written the preface to the work. This introduction was later released in God in the Dock under the title of “On the Reading of Old Books.” If you are fairly familiar with Lewis you might not be surprised to learn that he advocated the reading of original sources. 

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