Monday, July 11, 2011

Letters of C.S. Lewis

I love reading the correspondence of authors who are better known for their published works. In my experience, it's often no less illuminating than the works themselves. Yesterday morning I read some letters of C.S. Lewis, transcribing the bits that struck me.

The letters remind me that Lewis is more subtle and complicated than his reputation might indicate. Here are a few selections (about a fifth of what I transcribed), arranged by date:

"My own frequent uneasiness comes from another's source—the fact that apologetic work is so dangerous to one's own faith. A doctrine never seems dimmer to me than when I have just successfully defended it" (2 August 1946, to Dorothy Sayers).

"'Regular but cool' in Church attendance is no bad symptom. Obedience is the key to all doors: feelings come (or don't come) and go as God pleases. We can't produce them at will, and mustn't try" (7 December 1950 to "Mrs Arnold").

"I think that if God forgives us we must forgive ourselves. Otherwise it is almost like setting up ourselves as a higher tribunal than Him" (19 April 1951 to "Mrs Breckenridge").

"All that Calvanist question—Free-will and Predestination—is to my mind indiscussible, insoluble. Of course (we say) if a man repents God will accept him. Ah yes (they say), but the fact of his repenting shows that God has already moved him to do so. This at any rate leaves us with the fact that in any concrete case the question never arises as a practical one. But I suspect it is really a meaningless question (20 October 1952 to "Mrs Arnold").

"It's not essential to believe in the Devil: and I'm sure a man can get to Heaven without being accurate about Methuselah's age. Also, as Macdonald says 'the time for saying comes seldom, the time for being is always here'. What we practise, not (save at rare intervals) what we preach is usually our great contribution to the conversion of others" (2 February 1955 to "Mrs. Ashton").

"I feel the whole of one's youth to be immensely important and even of immense length. The gradual reading of one's own life, seeing the pattern emerge, is a great illumination at our age. And partly, I hope, getting freed from the past as past by apprehending it as structure.

"... By the way, that business of having to look up the same word ten times in one evening is no proof of failing powers. You have simply forgotten that it was exactly like that when we began Latin or even French" (8 February 1956 to Dom Bede Griffiths, O.S.B.).

"My model here is the behaviour of the congregation at a 'Russian Orthodox' service, where some sit, some lie on their faces, some stand, some kneel, some walk about, and no one takes the slightest notice of what anyone else is doing. That is good sense, good manners, and good Christianity. 'Mind one's own business' is a good rule in religion as in other things" (23 March 1956 to "Mrs Ashton").

"No one ever influenced Tolkien—you might as well try to influence a bandersnatch. We listened to his work, but could affect it only by encouragement. He has only two reactions to criticism: either he begins the whole work over again from the beginning or else takes no notice at all" (15 May 1959 to Charles Moorman).

"... I sometimes wonder if an interest in liturgiology is not rather a snare. Some people talk as if it were itself the Christian faith" (4 August 1962 to Dom Bede Griffiths, O.S.B.).

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