RETROSPECT: May 11th – 21st

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 second third of May (11th – 21st) include: Initial publication of Miracles, the landmark first meeting with a famous friend and securing his longest employment.

“Miracles” is among the many misused words in our vocabulary today. This was true even back in 1947 when Miracles: A Preliminary Study was released on the 12th by C.S. Lewis. Of course, Lewis was addressing more of an unbelief in the miraculous. In fact, as the inside dusk jacket of the first edition notes, the subtitle isn’t about Lewis giving his tentative thoughts on the subject, but rather the book is designed to be “a study preliminary to any historical inquiry into the actual occurrence of miracles.” That is, before any examination of specific miracles one has to believe that the miraculous can genuinely occur. Nearly thirteen years later (as mentioned in the previous column) a new edition was released containing a revised third chapter.

Tolkien (Young)In Lewis’s personal life a very significant meeting occurred on the 11th in 1926. Prior to returning to the Christian faith Lewis met J.R.R. Tolkien, who not long after became one of two friends that were invaluable aids in Lewis’s conversion. They first met on that date in May at an Oxford English faculty tea, but Lewis wasn’t all that impressed by him. However, they soon became good friends once it was discovered that they each shared a love of “Northernness” and enjoyed Norse mythology. Because of their mutual interests they began getting together to discuss them (an ultimately their own writings) in what eventually became known as the Inklings. One of the outgrowths of this was for them to challenge each other to write a science fiction story from a Christian worldview. Lewis would write a “space-journey” and Tolkien a “time-journey.” Tolkien’s effort was never published during his life, but Lewis’s attempt resulted in the 1938 book, Out of the Silent Planet, which became the first of three books in a series. It’s interesting to note that this effort has some indirect ties to the distancing between Tolkien and Lewis. When the last of the trilogy, That Hideous Strength came out it was immediate recognized as being influenced by the writings of Charles Williams. It was Lewis’s close friendship with Williams that began the decay of the relationship between Lewis and Tolkien. Prior to all this, however, Lewis was a key factor in encouraging Tolkien to finish writing The Hobbit and seeking to get it published. He was also a vital influence in the follow-up, The Lord of the Rings.

A couple of landmark events in Lewis’s professional life occurred during this period. After holding a temporary position at Oxford teaching philosophy (mentioned in the last column), he was elected a Fellow in English Literature at Magdalen College, Oxford on the 20th in 1925. It cannot be understated how excited both Lewis and his father, Albert, was about this milestone. Albert, who had supported him financially since 1919, recorded these words in his diary: “I went to his (Jack’s) room and burst into tears of joy. I knelt down and thanked God with a full heart.”

Allegory of LoveThen, just over ten years later, on the 21st in 1936, his first scholarly work, The Allegory of Love: A Study in Medieval Tradition was published by Oxford University Press. Interestingly, the idea for this book came the same year (1925) that he obtained his fellowship at Oxford. It was suggested to him by a former tutor, F. P. Wilson, that he should consider writing a book on some characteristic of Medieval thought. About two years later he began the task of creating something that would dramatically build his reputation as a first-rate scholar. The Allegory of Love may not be read by many outside those interested in literary criticism, but it clearly shows that from his early days as a Christian Lewis didn’t see any conflict about being a person of faith who took his “secular” work seriously.

This book actually leads us back to another Charles Williams connection. The Allegory of Love was a factor in Williams and Lewis becoming friends. Williams worked in the London office at Oxford University Press and actually proof read the material before it was published. Sadly, this connection brings us to Williams’s untimely death on the 18th in 1945. He was just 58 years old. On a brighter personal note, Lewis’s mother, Flora, was born during this period, on the 18th in 1862.

Returning to his professional work, there remains a couple of talks that Lewis gave and two Screwtape related items. On the 11th in 1959 Lewis gave a lecture to theology students at Wescott House in Cambridge. When first published after his death in 1967, in Christian Reflections, the title was “Modern Theology and Biblical Criticism.” However eight years later it was the lead essay in another collection of shorter works by Lewis. Fern-Seed and Elephants, while a catchy title for a book (and essay) apparently didn’t impress readers in the 1970’s, as that book is now out of print. When first given as a talk in 1959 Lewis gave four criticisms of modern theology…so you can imagine it is not a light-hearted read. However, despite being given to a specialize audience, any interested in Lewis’s views on the Bible will be especially rewarded with taking the time to study the speech. In the spirit of that, you might consider listening to an essay chat I did with Reggie Gates on this talk in two segments (1st Part / 2nd Part).

On the 20th in 1946 he spoke at a meeting of the Oxford Socratic Club. “Religion without Dogma?” was Lewis’s choice for the topic. It was selected because he wanted to reply to Professor H.H. Price’s paper that was previously read at another of the club’s meeting. While first published the same year in the Phoenix Quarterly, it was also in the fourth issue of The Socratic Digest from 1948 (now available as part of a single volume of all issues). It was also reprinted in God in the Dock as a slightly revised version of the paper.

God In The DockIn “Religion without Dogma?” Lewis begins by summarizing Professor Price’s positions into four points and then takes the assertions one at a time. The first, which he disagrees with is “that the essence of religion is belief in God and immortality.” This is also addressed in a chapter in Reflections on the Psalms. One of the other points had to do with the miraculous, which Price stated as something that could not be accepted by those believing in science. Besides addressing this more completely in Miracles: A Preliminary Study, Lewis proclaims in this article that “I do not think that science has shown, or, by its nature, could ever show that the miraculous element in religion is erroneous.”

The third Screwtape letter was released on the 16th in 1941 and begins with presenting some perspective about why a believer’s behavior is often slow to change. Due to habits and thought patterns one “can practise self-examination for an hour without discover any of those facts…which are perfectly clear to anyone who has ever lived in the same house.” The patient’s mother is indirectly introduced and another demon name Glubose is mentioned. The other Screwtape item happened on the 18th in 1960. That’s the date Lewis gives for writing the preface to a new edition of The Screwtape Letters that included the essay Screwtape Proposes a Toast. This preface is sometimes placed in the back of other editions as a postscript (as noted in last third of the February post).

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