C.S. Lewis: What were his disagreements with the Catholic Church?

A couple of years ago I read The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis and remember thinking, “is this man describing purgatory?” as his protagonist journeyed to heaven.

I just finished C.S. Lewis’ *Letters to Malcolm * (thanks for the recommendation GKC :thumbsup:) where he flat out states that, despite the traditional Reformation arguments against it, he believes in Purgatory. He then goes on to give a psychological (not scriptural) defense of the doctrine. In that book he also defends prayers for what he calls, “the dead” and a few other distinct Catholic beliefs. He talks highly of men such as Francis of Assisi and Thomas Aquinas. In another book of his (The World’s Last Night :confused:) he credits G.K. Chesterton’s The Everlasting Man as the single greatest Christian Apologetic work ever done.

All of this got me thinking; why did C.S. Lewis never join the Catholic Church? Does anyone know what his disagreements were with the Catholic Church that kept him from converting? I would be interested to know.

God bless

I’m not an authority on the subject, just be patient. However, I believe that it was the subject of divorce. His relationship with Tolkien broke off a the time he married Joy.

I heard or read once, however, that her first husband was a severe, abusive alcoholic. So I would excuse him. Annullments today are more likely----

I have often wondered this myself as he seems like a pure Catholic apologist. His books are an awesome read for any Catholic. I have heard it suggested that he shyed away from being Catholic because of the social stigma in England at the time, and yes the issue of divorce/remarriage made things messier. I think it was a source of heartbreak for Tolkien that his friend who he converted to Christianity from atheism did not take the full step into the Catholic Church. Even Tolkein suffered for being a Catholic in England at the time - his wife was ostracized by her family and he often referred to her as a “martyr” for her faith.

Part of it was his Irish background. He said something along the lines that he had been raised in anti-Catholicism and it was hard to get by no matter how hard he tried or how much he prayed.
His relationship with Tolkien didn’t break off when he married Joy, though.Tolkien was certainly disappointed, but they still maintained contact. At that time I don’t think they still even had as much contact as they had had at one point.

This I did not know. Was it ever reconciled? Was it a mutual break or was it where one side said they were done with the other?

[quote=MercyMia]I have heard it suggested that he shyed away from being Catholic because of the social stigma in England at the time

I have heard something similar in that he was Anglican because it is the Church of England and he was English. Kind of nationalistic in a way. I am not sure I buy that though. For one I have never seen something like that hinted at in his writings and also it never stopped other English people from converting to Catholicism :shrug:

God bless

He was actually Irish :slight_smile:

Then whoever told me that was a complete waste of my time :smiley:

So basically then it came down to the Catholic Church’s stance on divorce?

God bless

Tolkien broke the relationship.

There are two kinds of Irish-- Green and orange. :smiley: He was very much an orange-man. Deeply ingrained into his character, despite his appreciation of Catholic theology.

I hate to admit it, but I don’t understand the “orange” and “green” comment? Please explain :wink:

:wink: Green means Catholic Irish, Orange means Protestant Catholic, as in Ulster. You know, as in Northern Ireland, part of the Commonwealth, where Catholics and Protestants have been killing each other for hundreds of years. :o

The short story; Catholics are referred to as ‘green’ and Protestants are referred to as ‘orange’ in Ireland. He is saying that C.S. Lewis, though Irish, had ‘orange’ (Protestantism) very much ingrained into his character.

God bless

This is a perennial subject on boards like this. I’m a Lewis collector, have been for 45 years, like unto the subject of my man Chesterton.

There are a number of approaches to this point, and you can find them in a number of places. Tolkien, as reflected in Pearce’s C. S. LEWIS AND THE CATHOLIC CHURCH (the best book on this subject from a RC standpont) emphasizes his Ulster background. Which probably had an influence early on in his development, post the return to Christianity. Tolkien’s gradual estrangement from Lewis had a number of reasons behind it, the marriage to Joy Davidman being only one (others could be speculated, beginning with Lewis’ relationship with Charles Williams, or his success as a Christian apologist, in a mode that Tolkien could not approve of, outside the RCC. And while Tolkien played a large part in easing Lewis’ intellectual problems with Christianity, he was not alone in this).

Lewis himself has expressed his principled problems with the RCC, and it doesn’t involve the concept of divorce (indeed, his words date from 1945, years before he met Joy Davidman, and the Anglican Church at the time had an even stricter approach to divorce than did the RCC), nor with being English, or Irish, of any color. In a letter to a American, 8 May 1945 (which may be read in THE COLLECTED LETTERS OF C.S. LEWIS, vol II, ed. Hooper, pp. 645-646, he explains. I don’t have time to quote it all, but what he says there is that he cannot accept what he considers the RCC additions to the universal traditions of historic Christianity. He cites the developed dogmas on the BVM, the technical side of transubstantiation, the office of the Papacy, as developed, as examples. He also said, in another place that escapes me, that it was not so much what he would be asked to affirm, as a RC, as a convert, as that he would be required to affirm whatever might be subsequently required, in the future. It is, therefore, a point on authority that he objected to.

As I said, this is a common subject, and I’ve done this before, and better. I’m in a great hurry, right now. But one point I would insist on. Lewis took his stand on principle, not on prejudice, background, or personal convenience. To suggest otherwise is to pollute the waters of the discourse.


Lewis took his stand on principle, not on prejudice, background, or personal convenience. To suggest otherwise is to pollute the waters of the discourse.

Hello again GKC,

Yes I do believe you are right which is why I never bought into the explanation that he was Anglican because it was the Church of England. He found truth worth seeking and followed it where ever he believed it led. He renounced his atheism and his “chronological snobbery”. It seemed odd to me that he would go through all of that only to not make the “plunge” into Catholicism if he found that it was truth over some nationalistic pride. I figured it had to come down to a doctrine (perhaps doctrines) and principle. This is what I was looking for; what they were. It turns out, according to you, it wasn’t so much affirming what the Catholic Church taught at the time but what he may be asked to affirm in the future. But is this not something that Anglicans have to settle even amongst themselves? For example, could one not argue that the doctrine of the trinity was a developed doctrine? Would St. Ignatius or Polycarp or even St. Paul know what we meant if we used the word ‘trinity’ around them? Of course this is just me thinking out loud GKC and not something directed at you that I expect you to answer. Just trying to wrap my head around why a man who sounded so Catholic was not… Catholic.

God bless

It was two-fold: what he would have to affirm at a given point, as that compared to what he saw as scripturally derived, traditional mere Christianity. And, if such was possible to accept, what might be demanded in the future. He might (for example) have been able to accept dogma as defined pre-Vat I, if he were around at that time, but not the dogmas of Papal infallibility, when it was promulgated.a few years later.

As we Anglicans see it, he (and a selected subset of Anglicans) are Catholic. But not Roman Catholic.


Anglicanus Catholicus


Not to change the subject but did Lewis and Chesterton ever have any dialog? I know Lewis saw Chesterton as a great apologist for the Christian faith, but I am curious what Chesterton thought of Lewis. Granted Lewis did not ‘officially’ convert to Christianity until… 1931 :confused::shrug: which would have been well into the later years of Chesterton’s life. Nonetheless one would think Chesterton would have known of him prior to his conversion. Surely Lewis didn’t become relevant only after his conversion right?

God bless

Ah, I just read an article on him today!

“Blessed” G.K. Chesterton?

Yes I saw that this morning as well. Certainly great news. :thumbsup:

God bless

Chesterton died in 1936, by which time Lewis has published only the 2 very early books of pre-Christian poetry, PILGRIM’S REGRESS, and the rather specialized ALLEGORY OF LOVE (in which Lewis makes a complimentary reference to Chesterton). I’m not aware of Chesterton mentioning Lewis, he’s not listed in Sprug’s topical index, and, except for REGRESS, there’s no reason he would have come to Chesterton’s attention. OTOH, I do not own (yet) the collection of Chesterton’s ILLUSTRATED LONDON NEWS columns covering 1933, and something might be in there. But I doubt it. I


But, I fear, not likely to lead very far.


That is a shame. I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall for that conversation. If not a fly then I would have at least liked to have read about it.

Not that I would have understood anything that those two may have decided to talk about anyways. :wink:

By the way GKC, I don’t think you pushed the right buttons on your friend request thing. Are you trying to tell me something :confused:

God bless

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