CS Lewis on "Christian Reunion"

Possibly one of the lesser known essays of CS Lewis, “Christian Reunion” was found scribbled on the back of some broadcast sheets from 1944. Apparently it was in reply to the invitation of some Catholic friends. It’s not a long essay, but there were four paragraphs I thought repeating here.

Note that CS Lewis died in 1963, right in the middle of Vatican II. This essay was only published for the first time in “Christian Reunion” in 1990.

(from the foreword in “CS Lewis Essay Collection”).

It was subtitled “An Anglican speaks to Roman Catholics”.


"And on the purely theological level I think I may say that the barrier is no longer that between a doctrine of Faith and a doctrine of Works. I am not myself convinced that any good Roman ever did hold the doctrine of Works in that form of which Protestants accused him, or than any good Protestant ever did hold the doctrine of Faith in that form of which the Catholics accused him. At any rate I feel certain that no man of good will today hopes to see God either by Pecca fortiter or by founding an abbey.

The difficultly that remains, and which becomes sharper as it becomes narrower, is our disagreement about the seat and nature of doctrinal Authority. The real reason, I take it, why you cannot be in communion with us is not your disagreement with this or that particular Protestant doctrine, so much as in the absence of any real 'Doctrine", in your sense of the word, at all. It is, you feel, like asking a man to say he agrees not with a speaker but with a debating society. And the real reason I cannot be in communion with you is not my disagreement with this or that Roman doctrine, but to accept your church means, not to accept a given body of doctrine, but to accept in advance any doctrine your Church hereafter produces. It is like being asked to agree not only to what a man has said, but what he’s going to say.

To you the real vice of Protestantism is the formless drift which seems unable to retain the Catholic truths, which loses them one by one and ends in a ‘modernism’ which cannot be classified as Christian by any tolerable stretch of the word. To us the terrible thing about Rome is the recklessness (as we hold) with which she had added to the depositum fidei - the tropical fertility, the proliferation, of credenda. You see in Protestantism the Faith dying out in a desert: we see in Rome the faith smothered in a jungle…

… I have, however, a strong premonition as to the way in which reunion will *not *come. It will not come at the edges. ‘Liberal’ Romans and ‘high’ Anglicans will not be the ones who meet first. For the odd thing is that the nearer you get to the heart of each communion, the less you notice its difference from the other".

Typical CS Lewis - Right to the point, and still accurate decades later.

1 Like

Certainly there are aspects to this passage I agree with, however, I think most Protestants, even high Anglicans, have doctrinal disagreements with Rome.

One thing is for sure, I do believe that the Faith vs. Works argument is way overblown. As Lewis himself would say, “Arguing whether ‘faith’ or ‘works’ is more important, is like arguing which blade in a pair of scissors is more important.”

Without casting any aspersions on the essay, or getting into the details of the scholarly debate around it and much of the material first presented posthumously, after Lewis’ death and that of his brother, this is part of what some Lewis scholars consider problematic writings attributed to him.

I myself am no scholar, but I have been a student and collector of Lewis and his writings and the writings on him and them for about 50 years. I tend to be cautious on this subject. That being said, nothing in the cited excerpt strikes me as definitively problematic, in itself.

GKC

I’m trying to read between your lines, but I don’t know my Lewis well enough to fill in the gaps. What about this excerpt could be considered problematic, or otherwise construed as a contradiction to his better-known musings (if I’m correctly inferring what others might imply?)?

The essay is of doubtful provenance, not necessarily of dubious content. Among some sections of Lewisian scholarship.

GKC

Regardless of the provenance etc…I have to say that I love this line…

“You see in Protestantism the Faith dying out in a desert: we see in Rome the faith smothered in a jungle…”

Lot of truth in that…

:smiley:

Peace
James

And it does sound like Jack.

GKC

I don’t agree with that line at all. Actually on neither side. As for the Protestants faith dying out in the desert: yes it might be true in some of the more liberal/progressive protestant denominations and in England, but it is certainly not true amount evangelicals.
Rome smothering the faith in a jungle (of dogmas)? Where does this come from. The Church rarely defines new doctrines. The teachings have been constant for centuries.

It’s too bad Lewis didn’t learn the truth about Catholic teaching before he died :frowning:

The typical Catholic response is that we “Protestants” don’t have the “fullness of Truth” in our communions – that we are thirsting for more, or dried in a desert.

Well, did Catholics always have to hold that the Immaculate Conception is truth? How about Papal Infallibility? When were these made dogma?

Just curious, who do the doubters say our ghost writer would be, if not him?

A well known name in the world of Lewisiana. With opportunities to do so, and some question marks associated with some of his personal assertions.

GKC

I have certainly heard folk who believe that, say that, yes.

GKC

A reply may be forthcoming. Or perhaps not.

GKC

JRKH #6
I have to say that I love this line…
“You see in Protestantism the Faith dying out in a desert: we see in Rome the faith smothered in a jungle…”
Lot of truth in that…

Certainly there is much that has been lost in Protestantism, but there is no truth in faith being smothered in the Catholic Church – where else is the authority, and clarity of expression in defining the truths of faith and morals, except in the Catholic Church?

tafan #8
The Church rarely defines new doctrines. The teachings have been constant for centuries.

The dogma of papal infallibility was defined in 1870.

The doctrine on male only priesthood was defined in Pope St John Paul II’s Apostolic Epistle Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, 1994:
“Wherefore, in order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance, a matter which pertains to the Church’s divine constitution itself, in virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren (cf. Lk 22:32) I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful.”

steido01 #10
Well, did Catholics always have to hold that the Immaculate Conception is truth? How about Papal Infallibility? When were these made dogma?

As Christ gave His Church His authority in teaching, ruling and sanctifying, He gave Her the authority to proclaim doctrine and dogma as the need arose, and this reflects the development of the Church’s understanding of doctrine.

The dogma and doctrine which She teaches through Her Popes infallibly to the whole Church has already been protected by Him from error in installing His first Pope.
**Christ established His Church with four promises to St Peter: **
“You are Peter and on this rock I will build My Church.” (Mt 16:18)
“The gates of hell will not prevail against it.”(Mt 16:18)
I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of heaven.” ( Mt 16:19)
“Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven.” (Mt 16:19) [Later, also to the Twelve Apostles].

**Sole authority: **
“Strengthen your brethren.” (Lk 22:32)
“Feed My sheep.”(Jn 21:17).

JRKH #6
I have to say that I love this line…
“You see in Protestantism the Faith dying out in a desert: we see in Rome the faith smothered in a jungle…”
Lot of truth in that…

Certainly there is much that has been lost in Protestantism, but there is no truth in faith being smothered in the Catholic Church – where else is the authority, and clarity of expression in defining the truths of faith and morals, except in the Catholic Church?

tafan #8
The Church rarely defines new doctrines. The teachings have been constant for centuries.

The dogma of papal infallibility was defined in 1870.

The doctrine on male only priesthood was defined in Pope St John Paul II’s Apostolic Epistle Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, 1994:
“Wherefore, in order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance, a matter which pertains to the Church’s divine constitution itself, in virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren (cf. Lk 22:32) I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful.”

steido01 #10
Well, did Catholics always have to hold that the Immaculate Conception is truth? How about Papal Infallibility? When were these made dogma?

As Christ gave His Church His authority in teaching, ruling and sanctifying, He gave Her the authority to proclaim doctrine and dogma as the need arose, and this reflects the development of the Church’s understanding of doctrine.

The dogma and doctrine which She teaches through Her Popes infallibly to the whole Church has already been protected by Him from error in installing His first Pope.
**Christ established His Church with four promises to St Peter alone: **
“You are Peter and on this rock I will build My Church.” (Mt 16:18)
“The gates of hell will not prevail against it.”(Mt 16:18)
I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of heaven.” ( Mt 16:19)
“Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven.” (Mt 16:19) [Later, also to the Twelve Apostles].

**Sole authority: **
“Strengthen your brethren.” (Lk 22:32)
“Feed My sheep.”(Jn 21:17).

I agree … although I think he could have also said that reverse: “You see in Protestantism the faith smothered in a jungle, we see in Rome the Faith dying out in a desert.”

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