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C.S. Lewis and the Church: A Review (Part 2)

August 24th, 2012 | 5 min read

By Matthew Lee Anderson

Editor’s note:  We pleased to publish this review (in two parts--read the first part here) by friend of Mere-O Dr. Thomas Ward. 


In the profoundest essay of the collection, “C.S. Lewis and the Eschatalogical Church,” Judith Wolfe amplifies the thesis that it is in Lewis’s portrayals of heaven that we come closest to his ecclesiology. The Church, she writes, “just like the individual person, is for Lewis primarily a heavenly or eschatalogical reality, and only secondarily an earthly one (p.109).” The individual is primarily an eschatalogical reality because human life here below is marked by longing for something existing outside of spatiotemporal reality and only in achieving the object of this desire are we complete or truly ourselves. The Church is therefore eschatalogical because the Church is simply “the community of the saved (p.109).”CS Lewis and the Church

We do not know just what we will be (other than that we will be whole) so we don’t know just what the Church will be. But we do know that we were made in the image of God and that the fulfillment of our individuality will consist at least in part of a restoration (and/or perfection) of this image. This gives direction to our efforts here below: our part is to cooperate with God’s work in us, “to become clear mirrors in which [the image of God,] when God looks at them, can find reflection (p.108).”

In Mere Christianity Lewis extended the mirror metaphor to include not just the relationship between an individual and God, but between individuals: “Men are mirrors … of Christ to other men.” Reflecting on this, and also on Lewis’s chapter on philia in The Four Loves, Wolfe extends the mirror image even further: “Humans know themselves not by reflecting on themselves, but by being reflected by others (p.114).”

Wolfe finds “the most sustained visualization” of this idea in That Hideous Strength, when the Ladies of St. Anne’s don their ceremonial robes and admire one another. They do not need a looking glass, as Jane remembers the Director’s words, that we are “mirrors enough to see another.” Wolfe then makes the following bold inference:

If we see ourselves most accurately in the mirror of another’s loving face, then it is because our deepest identity is being loved—there is no ‘I’ apart from that ‘I’ as loved by God, and there is no accurate view of that ‘I’ apart from the ‘I’ that is loved (p.115).

That there is no accurate view of the ‘I’ apart from the ‘I’ that is loved seems to be both correct and what Lewis thinks. But Wolfe goes too far, I think, in her claim that there is no ‘I’ apart from the ‘I’ as loved, and I don’t see any reason to attribute it to Lewis. Relata are prior to relations, in the sense that there must be things before there can be relations between things. Love might bring me into being, but the relation God’s-loving-me cannot obtain until He who is Love has made me.


Part III, Lewis and the Churches


In “C.S. Lewis, an ‘Anonymous Orthodox’?” Kallistos Ware speculates about the extent of Lewis’s familiarity and sympathy with Eastern Orthodoxy. Christopher Mitchell in “Lewis and Historic Evangelicalism,” and Philip Ryken in “Lewis as the Patron Saint of Evangelicalism,” attempt to show why Lewis is so highly regarded by evangelicals. Ryken’s “testimony of my personal relationship with C.S. Lewis” is especially delightful.

Ian Ker’s contribution, “’Mere Christianity’ and Catholicism,” takes issue with Lewis’s famous metaphor in the opening of Mere Christianity. Lewis likened mere Christianity to a hall and the various churches to so many rooms opening off the hall. But the metaphor presents a problem, according to Ker:

Not all the rooms would accept that they are rooms off a common hall called ‘mere Christianity.’ The Roman Catholic Church would have to insist that the evisaged house is the Roman Catholic Church […The] fact is that the whole concept of a common hall with different rooms opening off it is not an acceptable ecclesiological model from the Catholic point of view (p.131).


Against Ker, I would argue that Lewis is not offering an ecclesiological model through his hallway metaphor. Instead he is claiming to have identified the Christian doctrines shared by all believers. And because ecclesiology is an important source of division among Christians, a determinate ecclesiology is no part of mere Christianity. While it’s certainly tempting to think of the hallway of mere Christianity in ecclesiological terms, since it naturally calls to mind the “house of God,” a church building, it is more accurate to think of the hallway simply as a set of doctrines, all of which will be found in all the rooms, albeit elaborated in different ways in each.

Ker, it seems, would take issue even with this corrected interpretation of the metaphor, since according to him, “Catholicism holds that the faith is inseparable from the Church, which comes first as the source of faith (p.133).” In other words, one cannot have one without the other, so the idea of a Christian faith that is indifferent to Catholicism vs. Orthodoxy vs. Protestantism is a chimera. But the Catechism of the Catholic Church is against Ker here. Paragraph 818, for example, teaches that non-Catholic Christians have “the faith of Christ” and through baptism are “incorporated into Christ.” Clearly this implies that there is a faith that is separable from the Catholic Church, at least in the sense that one may hold the faith without being a member of the Catholic Church. And in this respect Lewis and the Catechism are in accord.

"Lewis often reminded us that he was not a theologian. C.S. Lewis and the Church establishes, I think, that he was not an ecclesiologist, and no doubt Lewis would have conceded this conclusion. But this does not mean that Lewis has nothing to say about ecclesiology. Lewis was such a good writer, writing with profundity and sincerity on such a wide range of topics, that admirers just assume that he has at least something interesting to say abouteverything. And in the opinion of this admirer this assumption is well-founded. (The danger, of course, is to think that Lewis had everything to say aboutanything, and St. Jack of Oxford would be the first to tell us that he did not. Just as one cannot make a religion out of Mere Christianity, one cannot make a Church out of St. Anne’s on the Hill for similar reasons.)

Lewis was himself trained as both a philosopher and a literary scholar, and his popular works reflect this (lamentably) rare combination of reason and imagination. It’s not just that he wrote some things to appeal to philosophical types, and other things to appeal to literary types. He brought both imagination and intellect to bear on whatever subject he set himself and in whatever genre he worked, and his legacy has been secured because he brought these to bear on Christian themes. Readers who appreciate this fact about Lewis’s work will find to their delight that the editors of C.S. Lewis and the Church have curated a collection of essays that mirror Lewis’s whole-soul sensibility. Taken together the essays are as entertaining as they are erudite. Like Lewis’s ecclesiology, there is something here for everyone."

Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson is an Associate Professor of Ethics and Theology in Baylor University's Honors College. He has a D.Phil. in Christian Ethics from Oxford University, and is a Perpetual Member of Biola University's Torrey Honors College. In 2005, he founded Mere Orthodoxy.