RETROSPECT: 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.”

Lewis-Speaking-195x300.jpgThere 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.” Yet, today we know the sermon as “Learning in War-Time.” It is easiest to find in the short collection entitled The Weight of Glory.

However, 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.” As you will recall, at the time this sermon was given war had just broken out; a conflict 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?” You can learn more about this and other sermons he preached in a podcast where I share my talked done at the C. S. Lewis Society of Chattanooga.

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. The 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.” As you recall, Lewis had already dealt with the topic of sex, so unlike some who might think the worst sin has to do with that, he believed pride was instead 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.”

Screwtape-Annotated.jpgOn 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 useless because they are old (and thus out of date). Both letters are found in The Screwtape Letters and the Annotated Edition that was released in 2013.

Finally, a couple other shorter works were available during the last third of this month. “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.Then, “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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