The Great Divorce by CS Lewis

What do you think of Lews’ “The Great Divorce” and his theology of Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory expressed therein? Specifically what do you make of his plot device wherein the damned have the opportunity to be saved after death? His conflation of Hell and Purgatory? And what seems to be his near endorsement of Universalism in the speech given by George MacDonald towards the book’s conclusion? These teachings seem to run counter to Catholic doctrine, but the book has many other keen insights. Overall, do you like the book? Would you recommend it to others?

Did you want non-catholic opinions on this?

If not you shoulda posted somewhere else. I think it is a interesting idea. I have used it in apologetics before. I did not completely convince the guy but I hope I helped to plant a seed. I hope another will water that seed. It may not be completely true, but even something not completely true can be used to lead someone to the Lord. Not that I used something I know to be false because for all I know it could be true. It is not contrary to what I believe.

I am not suggesting that you use something you know is false to try and bring someone to the Lord.

start there, if you haven’t already

I don’t think Lewis was trying to create doctrine or preach any doctrine in TGD. Rather, he merely wanted his readers to think outside their usual ideas about the afterlife.

He introduces many important themes, such as agape love, free will, desire to sin, proper love of others, and many more. It’s quite a rich book with much insight and wisdom.

It doesn’t really touch the heart, though. Lewis, as I’ve stated before, was more of a cerebral Christian that an affected one. By that I mean what he could grasp in his mind held his attention more than what moved his heart, although he no doubt had such inspired moments in his life and attempted to relay them in “Surprised by Joy”. Still, he simply didn’t have to capacity to access that part of himself in such a way that others could share in it.

I reread TGD at least once a year because it is so good, but I do take some of his ideas with a grain of salt. Like any good fantasy/mythology, it teaches us truths, although not all of it is necessarily true.

I enjoyed it.

Like “Screwtape”, it presented some complex ideas in a fictional way. Read both books in my early teen years.

I didn’t get the impression of “universalism” in it though. I thought there was a clear distinction between the damned souls and those that were entering into the beginning of Dawn.

It made me more aware of the idea of Purgatory when I first read it…I think that Lewis struggled with the theology of it, from what I have read of his work (and that is by no means exhaustive or with academic rigor). I appreciated that he did not seem to push one theology, but left the mechanics of it it rather mysterious.

Maybe I should re-read it, last time was over 25 years ago. My understanding is that it was written as a rebuttal of sorts to an English theologian that had written about the marriage of heaven and hell on earth. I don’t recall reading the essay that provoked this book.

Gee…Time flies. :shrug:

(Lewis’ guide would likely shout back “No! All times are NOW!” :D)

Non-Catholic opinions are fine, although I was more interested in what fellow Catholics think about some of the theology in the book. Where should have I posted it? As Lewis was non-Catholic, I figured this was the best spot, but I have been wrong before.

Thanks, but no one there really addresses the specific questions I was raising. Thanks for the link, though.

The headiness of TGD is precisely what made it appealing to me. It’s goal was to make us think about the afterlife; not be drowned in emotion about it. We all have intense feelings about death, not nearly enough thought about its sequelae.

And while his merging of Hell and Purgatory is rejected by the Church, it was equally a concession for Lewis, as Purgatory has no place in Protestantism.


And I assume everyone is considering Lewis comments in the Preface, particularly his closing one.


Lewis, unlike most Protestants, believed in Purgatory, so it wasn’t that much of a concession from him.

Only if someone could refresh my memory of it, it’s been a while…:shrug:

“I beg readers to remember that this is a fantasy. It has of course-or I intended it to have-a moral. But the transmortal conditions are solely an imaginative supposal: they are not even a guess or a speculation at what may actually await us. The last thing I wish is to arouse factual curiosity about the details of the after-world.”

Certainly, but does that disclaimer make up for the serious theological problems with some parts of the book?

I think it has absolutely nothing to do with the afterlife. It seems to be almost wholly concerned with desire and how it is handled - whether in love or selfishness. Lewis repeatedly focuses on the difference between a self-absorbed “love” and true love. If you want to extend his statements past his meaning, that is up to you, but I think he is fencing it with the above statement. Perhaps he should have been more guarded, but then the book would not be as fun. Or powerful. So I argue it should not be stretched beyond its limits. And Lewis was not a professional theologian, nor a scientist. Perhaps we should discuss whether he wrote from the head or the heart? In the prologue to Screwtape he makes some statements about that.

And for Lewis, real desire is the desire for God. Not sex, money, power, personal glory or anything else, examples of which are paraded before the reader in the souls of the damned. And real love is shown in a number of self-sacrificing individuals. Fleshly desire can consume one, and the morality of the story is how we should live now, not what is coming.

Personally, I am all in favor of getting the sanctifying bit done here and not postponing it.


I read it originally as a work of pure fantasy, but it did introduce ideas I hadn’t considered (Purgatory & Hell). I recall reading the Space Trilogy just before this one, I was a big fan of Sci-Fi then.

Re-reading it as an young adult, it was quite good too.

Still can’t remember who he was responding to when he wrote it, did he refer to that in the preface as well? :hmmm: :shrug:

He implies it is Blakes’ Marriage of Heaven and Hell.


Why shouldn’t it? TGD is not a text on theology (nor human eschatology).

It really is only tangentially about the human afterlife. That is only the setting. Like Sartre’s No Exit, an imagined afterlife is only a venue for teaching about human beings in life.


Since Lewis, as quoted, stated it was a fantasy, and not a guess or speculation, I consider that a non-issue.

Warren Lewis and Tolkien both mentioned that Lewis was developing GD, influenced by the concept of the refrigerium as found in a number of sources (see Hooper/C.S.LEWIS: A COMPANION & GUIDE, pp. 279-289). Lewis apparently originally came on this in reading Jeremy Taylor, though Hooper says the germ was there earlier.


Well said, IMO. I think the book reads best as a fresh, imaginative look at the possible end results of our desires.

Again, we have to keep in mind this is a fantasy, a dream, not a theological summary. His purpose is to entertain; the spiritual insights are a bonus. His theology (what there is) to me is compatible with Catholicism, and (as far as I know) with evangelicalism and Anglicanism. You have to remember he wasn’t denying the distinctness of purgatory, just using that as a literary starting point. It’s probably the most Catholic story about Purgatory you will ever find, this side of Dante.

I don’t agree with the poster who said Lewis was cerebral, as opposed to the heart. People are moved by different kinds of things, as he himself said. For instance he wrote that while he personally would not be “moved” by an emotional Salvationist presentation, someone else might, and that’s fine. He also wrote of being emotionally moved and spiritually affected, just by reading the logic of certain theological arguments, in his chair with his pen and pipe. I think for him that was a “devotional”. But someone else might not.

I think Lewis’ “cerebral” approach touched the hearts and emotions of many who are not being touched by the bland “have a nice day, you are wonderful” heart to heart theology of our time. Oh would that he was still among us today!

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