Tuesday, May 29, 2007

CRC #5: C. S. Lewis and Ecumenism

(This is an entry for the Christian Reconciliation Carnival, #5.)

Have you ever read literature by a Christian of a denomination other than yours... and found yourself agreeing with much of what he or she has written? I have, and it's one of the reasons I hold a hope that there can be a clearer understanding between Christians and even, eventually, a reconciliation. I hope it is God's will that this reconciliation happens this side of Heaven, but I will let His will be done.

In college, in the library of my fraternity house, one finds lots of old -- even ancient -- books. There are old RPI yearbooks, old textbooks, old encyclopedias, and old novels. I found one book titled The Apostle (9780881841671), by Sholem Asch, held my interest last time I visited the house. But the first book I found there that I actually took back to my room to start reading was a book by the famed author of the Narnia series (of which I'd only read the first). The book was mere christianity (9780805420463), the author was C. S. Lewis.

I'm pretty sure I knew that Lewis was not a Catholic before I started reading mere christianity. However, to my 19- or 20-year-old brain, that meant he was "a Protestant", which in turn meant he was "a Baptist or something". (I apologize for the tone of ignorance that will be displayed on occasion in this post, but it is simply indicative of what I knew about other denominations of Christianity at the time.) I was somewhat surprised, then, after reading mere christianity, that his view of core Christianity made so much sense to me.

That was five years ago. Two years ago, after leaving college (not graduating, mind you, just leaving) and moving to the Princeton, NJ area for a job, I had my first apartment, complete with boxes of stuff I didn't want to unpack (and still haven't unpacked!) and a mostly-empty bookcase. I went to Barnes & Noble and bought the "Signature Series", a set of six books by Lewis; I was determined to read as many of his books as I could to understand this Catholic-sounding Christian's point of view. I've since gotten the complete Narnia series as a gift from my fiancée, and purchased two anthologies (comprising seven other works), the space trilogy (I still haven't started the third book), and a few other odds and ends (The Abolition of Man, The Weight of Glory, and Till We Have Faces). I also received a book about Lewis and the Narnia series, as well as a book about Lewis's relationship with J. R. R. Tolkien, author of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.

But back to Lewis and his appealing take on Christianity.

It was not until I was reading his anonymous work, A Grief Observed, written after the death of his wife, Joy, that I found out what his particular church was. On page 65 (very near the end of the book), he writes (emphasis mine): "Tomorrow morning a priest will give me a little round, thin, cold, tasteless wafer. Is it a disadvantage -- is it not in some ways an advantage -- that it can't pretend the least resemblance to that with which it unites me?" I knew he was not talking about a Catholic priest, so I realized that he meant either an Orthodox priest or an Anglican priest, and since Orthodox Communion is not with wafers, that meant Lewis was an Anglican.

My future studying, which included the book C. S. Lewis and the Catholic Church (0898709792), helped me understand Lewis's faith, what he thought of Rome, and what he thought of Christianity in general. Lewis was a liturgically-oriented orthodox Anglican. This put his writings in a fuller context. I finally understood where he was coming from. At that moment, it really did not matter to me that he wasn't Catholic; what mattered to me was that he had been able to explain the core tenets of the Christian faith to a Catholic, and that he had bolstered my belief in God and my faith in Jesus Christ. Perhaps this is why so many Catholics mark Lewis as a signpost on their "road to Rome", or as a buoy as they "cross the Tiber". I have no doubt he has helped Christians of other denominations feel "at home" in their churches either.

Lewis has succeeded in writing an ecumenical work -- several, really -- with which so many Christians can identify, and I believe it is a foundation on which to build more serious, more intelligent, and more charitable dialogue in reconciling the Christians of the world to one another, and ultimately, to God Himself.

1 comment:

Weekend Fisher said...

Hi Jeff

I've emailed instructions for accessing the Carnival submissions to you. Please let me know if there's any difficulty receiving them, as it was a problem for last month's host. If in need of a re-send, please email me at either of the addresses you have for me.

Take care & God bless