One of the lesser known and lesser read works of CS Lewis is his correspondence with Rev. Fr. Don Giovanni Calabria. Few indeed have read them since they were written in Latin. And though an English translation was published in 1998, I know few who have ever heard of these letters. The full collection of these letter is here: The Latin Letters of CS Lewis
I first wrote on these letters two years ago but a recent conversation prompts me to re-post on them. Why? There are many who are rightly bewildered at the steep decline of faith in here in America which seems to have happened very dramatically in the late 1960s. But as these reflections by CS Lewis witness, the decline in faith and the erosion of moral life in Europe was already well underway in the late 1940s. Indeed, it was linked to the horrifying experience with two world wars, that seems to have both resulted from, and further exacerbated the decline of faith there.
Had not our Lady warned at Fatima in 1917:
The war (WW I) is going to end: but if people do not cease offending God, a worse one will break out during the Pontificate of Pope Pius XI. When you see a night illumined by an unknown light, know that this is the great sign given you by God that he is about to punish the world for its crimes, by means of war, famine, and persecutions of the Church and of the Holy Father. (Second Secret of Fatima).
Of course we know the sad story. The repentance did not take place and, following one of the most vivid displays of the Northern lights ever recorded (Jan 25, 1938) the Second World War was underway. Germany annexed Austria in March of 1938 and Poland was invaded in 1939. WW II was engaged.
Many of us in America know little of the steep decline of Faith in Europe that took place long before the cultural revolution here of the 1960s. Our knowledge of world history is poor and little do most modern Americans understand the horrifying blood bath that the 20th Century was. Conservative estimates are that 100 million people died in wars or were exterminated for ideological purposes. Loss of faith was surely a cause and also a lasting effect from the cauldron of that horrible Century, a Century marked by amazing invention and yet a body count of almost unimaginable numbers, even more, when we add the horror of Abortion.
These Letters of CS Lewis open a window on that mid-century period of European History. There are some very important insights that CS Lewis offers for the loss in faith in Europe already well underway in the early 1950s when the letters were exchanged.
Indeed I would call his insights stunning in many ways. Lewis argues, in effect that Europe was in a far worse state than paganism. Would that she were even pagan, for the pagans accepted natural law. But Europe, having cast off the faith, is in a state far worse than even before she ever heard of Christ.
In the quotes that follow CS Lewis makes this case quite well an then proffers a solution that we may wish to consider in these times that are even darker for Europe and the whole of the West. Allow me to present just a few excerpts. The Latin text is italicized. The English translation (by Martin Moynihan) is just below the Latin in black bold and italic type face. My comments are in red.
Let us begin with Lewis assessment as to how and by what stages Europe lost the faith:
Neque tamen sine peccatis nostris evenit: nos enim justiam illam, curam illam pauperum quas (mendacissime) communistae praeferunt debueramus jam ante multa saecula revera effecisse. Sed longe hoc aberat: nos occidentales Christum ore praedicavimus, factis Mammoni servitium tulimus. Magis culpabiles nos quam infideles: scientibus enim voluntatem Dei et non facientibus major poena. Nunc unicum refugium in contritione et oratione. Diu erravimus. In legendo Europae historiam, seriem exitiabilem bellorum, avaritiae, fratricidarum Christianorum a Christianis persecutionum, luxuriae, gulae, superbiae, quis discerneret rarissima Sancti Spiritus vestigia? (Letter 20, Jan 7, 1953)
But (this) did not happen without sins on our part: for that justice and that care for the poor which (most mendaciously) the Communists advertise, we in reality ought to have brought about ages ago. But far from it: we Westerners preached Christ with our lips, with our actions we brought the slavery of Mammon. We are more guilty than the infidels: for to those that know the will of God and do not do it, the greater the punishment. Now the only refuge lies in contrition and prayer. Long have we erred. In reading the history of Europe, its destructive succession of wars, of avarice, or fratricidal persecutions of Christians by Christians, of luxury, of gluttony, of pride, who could detect any but the rarest traces of the Holy Spirit?
He makes a remarkable description here. Quite sobering! In effect there grew an appalling lack of love for God, for the poor and for one another. Greed and sloth also took their toll. The lip service faith meant that even Communism appeared more virtuous to some than the Faith.
The wars of which Lewis speaks encompass not only the 20th Century, wherein, as we remarked, as many as 100 million souls perished in two World Wars and the dropping of the Iron Curtain, but war had taken a terrible toll all through the Christian era. Consider this list: European Wars of the Christian Era. The list is unbelievably long. War upon war, and so much of it was Christian killing Christian.
To be sure, 2oth Century was a kind of death blow to Europe. These terrible things happened on the Christian watch. We must be honest about that. Good things, wonderful things happened too: the monasteries, universities, hospitals etc, the great flowering of all that is best in Western culture. And it can be argued that the faith ushered in these things and also prevented things from being far worse. But a gradual internecine lack of love also took its toll and in the aftermath of the bloodiest century the world has ever known, Europe woke up to a largely faithless landscape.
Next Lewis describes how great is our fall:
Quae dicis de praesenti statu hominum vera sunt: immo deterior est quam dicis. Non enim Christi modo legem Naturae Paganis cognitam negligunt. Nunc enim non erubescunt de adulterio, proditione, perjurio, furto, certisque flagitiis quae non dico Christinaos doctores, sed ipsi pagani et barbari reprobaverunt. Falluntur qui dicunt “Mudus iterum Paganus fit” Utiam fieret! Re vera in statum multo pejorem cadimus. Homo post-Christianus non similis homini pre-Christiano. Tantum distant ut vidua a virgine….(est) magna differentia intra absentiam sponsi venturi, et sponsa amissi! (Letter 23, March 17, 1953)
What you say about the present state of mankind is true: indeed it is even worse than you say. For they neglect not only the Law of Christ, but even the Law of Nature as known by the Pagans. For now they do not blush at adultery, treachery perjury, theft and other crimes, which I will not say Christian doctors, but the Pagans and Barbarians have themselves denounced. They err who say: “The world is turning pagan again.” Would that it were! The truth is, we are falling into a much worse state. Post-Christian man is not the same as pre-Christian man. He is as far removed as a virgin from a widow….there is a great difference between a spouse-to-come and a spouse sent away.
Powerful analysis indeed. He makes similar remarks elsewhere about paganism but here it is succinctly stated. The modern European (and I would add American) are in a state below paganism. For at least the pagans had belief in the supernatural, some respect for Natural Law and could see what reality plainly taught. Modern Westerners are blinded even to that.
The pagan world was a virgin waiting for her groom. The modern West is an adulterous divorce’, cynical, angry and “so through” with Jesus. It is hard to know how the secular West will come round. Will she die in her sins, or will the miracle of broken, humbled heart emerge? Pray! Fast!
He reiterates and adds a stunning but biblical insight:
Certe sentio gravissima pericula nobis incumbere. Haec eveniunt quia maxima pars Europa apostasiam fecit de fide Christiana. Hinc status pejor quam illum statum quem habuimus ante fidem receptam. Nemo enim ex Christianismo redit in statum quem habuit ante Christianismum, sed in pejorem: tantum distat inter paganum et apostatam quantum innuptam et adulteram. Ergo plerique homines nostri temporis amiserunt non modo lumen supernaturale, sed etiam lumen illud naturale quod pagani habuerunt. (Letter 26, Sept 15, 1953)
I certainly feel that very grave dangers hang over us. This results from the great apostasy of the great part of Europe from the Christian faith. Hence, a worse state than the one we were in before we received the faith. For no one returns from Christianity to the same state he was in before Christianity, but into a worse state: the difference between a pagan and an apostate is the difference between an unmarried woman and an adulteress….Therefore many men of our time have lost not only the supernatural light, but also the natural light which the pagans possessed.
A powerful and stunning reminder that leaving the faith does not simply put them back to the status quo ante. You can never go home. The West is now in a worse state than paganism for the reasons Lewis states.
Jesus made the same warning: When an evil spirit comes out of a man, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that man is worse than the first. (Luke 11:24-25) Yes, having found the house bereft of the Holy Spirit, quite empty of true faith, Satan returns now with seven more demons and that last state is worse than the first.
St. Peter makes the same point: For if, after they have escaped the defilement of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first (2 Peter 2:20).
But, calling for Hope, CS Lewis considers a way back:
Sed Deus qui Deus misericordiarum est etiam nunc non omnio demisit genus humanum….Non desperandum. Et haud spernendus numerus (apud nos) iam redeunt in fidem….Equidem credo laborandum esse non modo in evangelizando (hoc certe) sed etiam in quadam praeparatione evangelica. Necesse est multos ad legem naturalem revocare antequam de Deo loquamur. Christus enim promittit remissionem peccatorum: sed quid hoc ad eos qui, quum legem naturalem ignorent, nesciunt se peccavisse. Quis medicamentum accipiet nisi se morbo teneri sciat? Relativismus moralis hostis est quem debemus vincere antequam Atheismum aggrediamur. Fere auserim dicere “Primo faciamus juniores bonos Paganos et postea faciamus Christianos. (Letter 26, Sept 15, 1953)
But God who is the God of mercies, even now has not altogether cast off the human race. We must not despair. And among us are not an inconsiderable number now returning to the faith. For my part, I believe we ought to work not only at spreading the Gospel (that certainly) but also to a certain preparation for the Gospel. It is necessary to recall many to the law of nature before we talk about God. For Christ promises forgiveness of sins, but what is that to those who, since they do not know the law of nature, do not know that they have sinned? Who will take medicine unless he knows he is in the grip of a disease? Moral relativity is the enemy we have to overcome before we tackle atheism. I would almost dare to say, “First let us make the younger generation good pagans, and afterwards let us make them Christians.”
To some extent, recent Popes have said the same, we have to begin all over again. But Lewis’ point goes even further since the apostles found a Europe where, at least people were in touch with reality and accepted reality’s testimony as a reliable guide.
Further, the Europe, the West that the apostles encountered had false religion, but at least it accepted that there was a spiritual realm that must be respected as real.
We in the post Cartesian West have retreated out of reality and into our minds. Reality, Natural Law is not a datum, is not a common ground on which to meet. There is no accepted reality, just thought, opinion, views. There is nothing outside ourselves to which we all owe allegiance and which demands our assent. No, we live, not in reality, but in a world of thoughts and abstractions.
Think I’m exaggerating? Try telling a homosexual that the body isn’t designed for homosexual acts and watch how quickly you get a blank stare or indignant response: “What’ my body got to do with it? Its what I feel that matters.” Yes, apparently our bodies have nothing to say to us and neither does anything else in the real world which we dismiss with our ideologies.
Our task in reintroducing the West to reality, to Natural Law, will not be easy, but CS Lewis thinks we’re going to have start there.
Pretty powerful insights, thought provoking, frank and insightful. I am interested in your thoughts.
33 Replies to “CS Lewis as many have never heard him.”
I am 57 years old and I cannot remember any time in my life where so many were so ignorant about the basic decencies of life. I was confirmed at the age of 52 and until my conversion a year earlier, I lived relativism. I was blessed though that when I was young, I was taught right from wrong and I was brought up in a Catholic household. I never knew the faith or why Catholics believed or did what they did, only that you had to be good or you would go to hell. When I wasn’t good, I figured hell was already my destiny so I tossee everything aside.
I lived a life of hedoism, selfishness and immaturity and yes, sin. However, i truly believe that in the deepest part of me, I knew that my unhappiness was all tied to my loss of God and when God chose to open my heart and let me see His truth, it was only possible because the spark had been burning all those years.
My heart sorrows for all those in this world who have never been taught right from wrong, good from evil, or anything relevant or true about Jesus Christ. You cannot bring anyone to conversion, only God can do that, but you can plant the seeds. We have to take those who believe and open their heart to the workings of the Holy Spirit so that they can sow seeds with knowledge and joy. Too many who claim to be Christians and Catholics are by name only, not by knowledge or deed.
What I find so amazing though is that the Lord is pouring out His Spirit and Love in amazing ways to many people, like myself, and not just in little bits, but in a generous waterfall. People are converting and reverting and in powerful ways. So, there is no reason to despair, but every reason to bring the good news to an increasingly desparate, lonely and obscene world.
Thank you for sharing these words of C. S. Lewis. Strangely, I find comfort in them. God will step in as our world falls into the cesspool, whether it be through severe suffering or enlightenment, we will have to wait to find out.
Deb, at 63 years of age, the Lord reached out and brought me back from the abyss. An abyss created by indifferent and incomplete teaching and the snares of this world. Like you, i never lost God, just set Him aside so i could go my willful way. But inside, every day, i knew better. When through an evangelical pentecostal Church of God in Christ, i found the path to repentance and salvation, my soul grabbed it like a thirsty man finding an oasis in the desert and never looked back. But the hidden snares are still there. In spite of a huge reach by our Lord for souls and a huge response to His call, our shepherds, no matter how well meaning are still not leading right.
We have to pray and pray more. We have to touch others with our witness, our testimony, plant those seeds and keep moving. Nothing else matters but saving souls. We OWE God… big time. It is time to start showing Him our gratitude and our love.
Your reply is beautiful and it gives me great hope. So many in these last generations have never seen the light only darkness. I am 52 and am greatful that as a young child glimmers of light still remained. Our children have grown up in darkness, it is so difficult to communicate light and beauty as it is a concept they do not truly understand. What is impossible for man however is completely possible with God through the Holy Spirit. I pray daily for light to penetrate the darkness through the flame of a fresh anointing of the Holy Spirit in our Times. God is the God of miracles and if we look through the eyes of faith we can see miracles occurring with greater and greater frequency. “…..where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” Rom 5:20
I too have wondered what to do about Europe (and us) to bring them back to the faith. How could a country like France, with such a rich history of Christianity for centuries, with some of the greatest saints (St. Therese of Lisieux for example) lose their faith? What happened that destroyed their faith, so that now the greatest cathedrals are like empty tombs except for the tourists? And not just destroy their faith but make them hate the faith. To banish crucifixes. How did this happen? And here in America where what is practiced here is freedom FROM religion instead OF religion. When Pope Benedict XVI talked about some day there being a remnant of Catholics he wasn’t wrong.
I recently read Al Kresta’s book “Dangers to the Faith: Recognizing Catholicism’s 21st-Century Opponents” http://j.mp/OSVKrestaDTF and saw more clearly the modern dangers that pull us away from Christ and His Church. Like the CS Lewis video here talks about a belief in science not God that hurt Europe, I think that is a big part of the loss of faith today – and the relativism that is pervasive everywhere. Perhaps what CS Lewis meant to bring back is a sense of innocence. With technology there seems to be a loss of any innocence so early. We are all bombarded with images of s-x, violence, criminal behavior, lying, pessimism, etc. We can’t help but feel overcome by the evils in the world. We need that sense of innocence back. We need to be able to trust again. How do we do that when our leaders are liars and corrupt? The only hope we have is Christ. He has a plan – a way to eternal life. And we need to pray to Our Lady who foretold at Fatima all the evil that would befall us if we did not pray. Thank you father for such a profound post.
This certainly changes many arguments for me. Somehow this doesn’t seem to bode well for all the continued internal argument, distraction and war over liturgy, Vatican II, catechesis and leadership. It seems to me, in truth, these things have always continued to exist in their fullness for those who seek them, their truth just continues to be willfully rejected?
I wonder if by some CS Lewis will be now be vilified as some sort of conciliarist or modernist? Admittedly I haven’t read much of CS Lewis, but the little I do know and have read, I don’t ever recall him blaming our Church and Bishops for all our problems. Interesting stuff!
Absolutely changes many arguments, ESPECIALLY the Vatican II blame. I’ve read many claims that Vatican II was a response to these dynamics that Lewis describes in his letter. I was always very skeptical of that claim because I couldn’t really find evidence for it. This is the first evidence that I’ve seen to confirm it. It also explains why some people tried to come in and hijack Vatican II for their own purposes – the Church was trying to do something about this European apostasy and that is the last thing the wolves wanted. They had to grab onto Vatican II and manipulate it.
@Dismas and @Deacon Jason
If I may say, it is a bit simplistic to say that, given the evidence of a decline prior to the Second Vatican Council, then questions about its language or implimentation lose all value. Indeed, readimg Bl. John Henry Newman’s biglietto speach on the occasion of his creation as Cardinal, we can see it begins much earlier. Newman decries the effect of Liberalism (properly so called) in religion. Some can show evidence of the effect of a philosophical Liberalism behind the language on some V2 documents (and even earlier behind the revision of the liturgy of Holu Week and the Pontifical, to cite two examples) and certainly in the application of the Council. Ratzinger himself was dismayed by the Polly-Annaish optimism of Gaudium et Spes that seemed to take no account of fallen human nature (a secondary tenet of Liberalism or Modernism).
In any case, it is legitimate to ask, without in any way calling into question the liceity of the Second Vatican Council, whether some of
the documents are not prudently tailored to the good end for which they were written. These and other questions are legitimate and pertinent because we need our house in good order to increase the effectiveness of our initation, “Y’all come in!”
Ben, regarding the documents of VCII I’m certainly I’m not qualified to prudently make such pronouncements, expect perhaps, to recognize an almost certain and unmistakable power in their ability to scatter the proud in their conceit.
How true that we live in a kind of netherworld of feelings as opposed to reality! I come from a family that includes a number of male homosexuals, and they will even deny that they have a higher risk of HIV, etc.
Thank you for being willing to acknowledge natural law publicly,
No wonder this is a little known work of Lewis. It is very uncomfortable, even in the context of his other writings. Uncomfortable in the way of the pleas of those who care for an alcoholic, drug addict, compulsive gambler, status seeker who obsessively pursues the latest techno-feces even if they don’t understand the one which they don’t already have? How the techo seeker feeds the over production (and resulting enviromental damage) of all this glitsy stuff. Sure the stuff has value but; isn’t it somewhat exaggerated?
I like your comment on the adulterous divorce’. A brief thought (temptation?) crossed my mind about if you were trying to “one-up” Lewis’ comment about a widow; perhaps the promiscuous state which typifies the merry widow. Then I recalled how easy it is to head into meaningless, and destructive conflict by jumping to a conclusion with insufficient data. Could the topic not have been expanded? Perhaps the widow’s faith has died within her and the divorce’ has abanded her connection to the larger faith. Saved form starting an argument on which of two parts of the greater information is the one, true, information. Silly idea but, in our fallen state there’s no shortage of such silliness but … we don’t necessarily have to give into them.
In Marcy W’s closing comments, where she mentioned prayers to Our Lady I was reminded of a something that came to me during mass last Sunday. First there was about my mother cutting up some fashionable clothing from her single life to re-cycle the fabric into clothing for us. Because this resource was finite she later shopped for discarded curtains, bedding and the like in the thrift stores for more.
Then I thought of the scapular which I wear. Our Lady’s resources, however, are infinite and there will never be too many prayers or scapulars; as some science fiction stories of the 1970’s had fictional clergy claiming.
I was overwhelmed with the Power behind this thought and tears of joy streamed down my face. Since I was on my knees at the time it felt appropriate to take off my crucifix and my scapular so as to hold one up in each hand to accompany my tears but, while I’m not as shy as I was a few years ago I let shyness get in the way. Such a large crowd and I gave in to fear of discomfort. Oh well, like so many I am still a work in progress.
Your dedication to a regular flow helps me to express my inspiration found here and elsewhere on my occasional actions of opportunity. Thank you for maintaining.
It takes a lot of lies and distractions (of the devil) to deny the Spiritual, and we are not at a loss for them in our “modern” age. Still many hearts were turned away from God when there were only goats and stars to stare at, so it is in to the fickle heart we look deeper… for who will be loyal, who will persevere, who will be faithful to God. They choose to worship the beast and deny God (Romans 1:25 They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.)
Not to worry, God will give you many more chances to overcome your “fear of discomfort.” It helps me to ask God and then to always obey because He will never ask me to do something that is comfortable or easy (the narrow Way) but always what is fruitful and joyful to the soul and alway that which is so very pleasing to Him.
Thanks for that and I continually work on this fear however, my progress in overcoming some of that fear has led the support group, which I belong to, to come up with a term of beneficial discomfrot – which does not apply to all discomfort – and we progress.
Your confidence and suggestion to continue to seek God’s help is very re-assuring.
That’s quite amazing. I’ve read tons of Lewis, but nothing quite like this. It reminds me quite a bit, especially his conclusion, of the writings of Catherine Doherty, founder of Madonna House. Towards the end of her life, she wrote that we have to teach people how to be human beings again, which I think is what Lewis means by teaching them to be good pagans.
I’ve heard of these letters, but never bothered to look for a translation. Lewis is correct in stating that when you leave Christianity, you fall even below the pagans. If he was the most dejected convert in all of England, I was the most miserable child when I told God I would no longer speak to Him. I cried bitter tears at the age of 12. And indeed, I purposely used my intellect and body in ways it is not meant for. Beneath the pagans, indeed. But Lewis’s nonfiction writing, esp. about suffering and pain, have helped me to cling again to our Lord. Thank you so much for spotlighting these works, and the video clip was lovely. I noticed a peaceful smile at all the times he is photographed at his desk, writing.
In Colossians, St. Paul already warned us with the following, the 1st reading for today:
‘See to it that no one captivate you with an empty, seductive philosophy
according to the tradition of men,
according to the elemental powers of the world
and not according to Christ.
For in him dwells the whole fullness of the deity bodily,
and you share in this fullness in him,
who is the head of every principality and power.’
With the evil acts closing in on us and our families from all sides, we must go down on our knees and cry out for GOD’s intervention now. We must intercede from the depths of our hearts like Abraham for the change of hearts of those in darkness so that these principalities come into subject under HIM. YHWH ROPHEH. LORD have mercy.
I am one of those people who wonders why, if C. S. Lewis was so nifty, he didn’t become Catholic.
This is from paragraph 528 of the Catechism:
“Their coming [the Magi’s] means that pagans can discover Jesus and worship him as Son of God and Savior of the world only by turning toward the Jews and receiving from them the messianic promise as contained in the Old Testament.”
Without reading the Old Testament pagans can’t see the messianic promise contained therein and how Jesus fulfills that promise.
He most certainly have become Catholic if he had lived long enough to see what became of Anglicanism AND had more years to eventually discover the Church fathers.
My worry is that today’s modern have hearts hardened against Christ. The pagans were ignorant of Christ so they had no preconceived notions, but the modern, or really the post modern relativist, is actively hostile.
Again and again we reject Jesus Christ and choose Barabbas.
My daughter bought an old copy of this book for me some years ago while studying in England. I was just getting into Lewis and Tolkien at that time as her stories of the olde English Oxfordian life were intriguing to me. I think Lewis was quite aware of this Godless scenario, as was Tolkien. Lewis’ “Mere Christianity” has overtones of it, The Latin Letters are quite frank and Tolklien’s letters decry it. Take a look at Romano Guardini’s (Herr Professor Ratzinger’s predecessor) “The End of the Modern World” to get the take on the situation from the East side of the English Channel – same thing.
Absent creation ex nihilo, nothing comes from nothing as the song says. The current state of affairs had to have a beginning and it is not far fetched to me that the beginning was during the end of the 19th century and early 20th.
I seem to recall Benjamin Wiker saying on a CD that things started 500 years ago with the Enlightenment.
As regards what we can do in such challenging times – bring as many as we can to know and love Our Lady and watch to see how She will bring them to really love Jesus!
It is very easy to buy this book. I have owned a copy for over a year now and I am very glad that I bought the book. My regrets on the contents are that those letters to C.S.Lewis from Saint Giovanni Calabria (Yes he was canonised by Pope J.P. II), are largely missing. We get the replies and not the questions. Clearly the executors of C.S. Lewis’s works destroyed the letters which had been sent to him. The executors of Saint Giovanni kept the replies and then published them. It is such a pity that this correspondence is rather one-sided.
In regard to natural law and homosexuality, it should not be surprising that a rejection of natural law results in adverting to personal feelings as a source of morality. If as Romans 1 indicates, God causes those that reject His knowledge to burn with unnatural lusts, why wouldn’t these subsequent ‘feelings’ become the primary source for an individual to determine what is right and wrong? So there is no reason to be particularly shocked or despairing at this situation. God has caused such people to be reborn again and again; and He will no doubt continue to do so.
Because of God’s power, I can’t agree with Clive that we are in some way permanently worse off now for having rejected Christ as a civilization. The rejection by our civilization is a rejection that has been institutionalized by the rejection of Christ BY INDIVIDUALS. While such individuals are worse off for having rejected Christ, neither they nor our civilization will be permanently worse off when or if they return to Christ. Christ came to save sinners, ‘of which I am chief’, wrote St. Paul. People who return to Christ must do penance. I am not so sure that institutions which return to Christ must also do penance. If they have to do so, that is still a good thing for them and for all, so there is no cause to worry about some permanently anti-Christian future on that score.
The Church is reborn in every age; European civilizations have endured phases of decadence and slaughter and re-emerged to flower in new ways for a long time and throughout European history; by God’s grace they will continue to do so.
The important thing is individual conversion of the heart, of each one of us first, and then of our neighbor. Through you, and me, and our neighbor, society and morays and institutions are built. If we have no doubt destroyed great things, we can still create new and also great things, because the truth which was the foundation and power which built the old things is still there; and is the same, yesterday, today, and forever, thanks be to God, amen. But we have to access it. If we don’t, we will die; but some generation in the future may still embrace it. So there is no necessary permanent future loss to the world by the failures of our generation, or the next, or the next after that one. So while we should ‘weep for ourselves and our children,’ let us not make of ourselves something more important than what we are. Our infidelities do not control the future of the world.
Where sin abounds grace abounds all the more.
Do the Latin letters of C. S. Lewis really open a window for us into the history of mid-20th century Europe? I love Lewis, but I think he’s fundamentally wrong about the history of the century he so brilliantly ornamented by his own witness to the Faith. The Pagans (presumably Lewis is referring to the Pagans of the early Christian era) were not better than 20th century man because they believed in Natural Law, (only some of them did so in any case) but because they believed. Almost all of them believed in gods, or in some sort of mysterious, overarching fate, that induced in them a proper humility, a recognition of the limits of human egotism in the face of obdurate natural and supernatural forces that mankind can neither understand nor control. What is happening to late 20th and early 21st century man is that his ego is triumphing over blind forces, or so he deludes himself into thinking. Lewis also seems to be suggesting that nothing good has come out of the history of the modern European world. Wars, neglect of the poor, denial of God, selfish egotism–Lewis denounces them all, and rightly so. But what of the wonderful achievements of the sciences in the 19th and 20th centuries? What of the growth of the rule of law, of citizens’ rights, of parliamentary democracy in country after country during the past 200 years? What of the growing sense among the people of Europe that they are not culturally superior to other peoples, that mankind have a real mutual solidarity, a mutual interest in peace and harmony? What of the worldwide cooperation of Europeans and non-Europeans in various efforts to end hunger, provide clean drinking water, end slavery and exploitation, punish genocide and the people who engage in it? Are these things worthless? All of us can lament the sins of the modern world, but at the very moment in the 1950s when Lewis was denouncing the sinful state of Europe, parliamentary democracy was being established securely in one European country after another, godless Communism was being resisted and ultimately put on the road to extinction, the Marshall Plan was feeding millions and reestablishing civilized order in country after country. Why did Lewis not read the signs of the times in these entirely decent and hopeful events?
What makes Lewis appealing to us, I suspect, is that we are profoundly uneasy. We have now entered an era of precipitate decline in religious belief, and we are inclined to see the origins of this decline in the 19th century and derive some comfort from our historical awareness. But we need to get our facts straight. In the end there is no comfort in error. Historically, our present steep decline in belief is unprecedented. As the sociologists of religion teach us, society has now, suddenly, reached a “tipping point.” Enough people have ceased believing, believing in much of anything transcendent, that they can now influence their neighbors and give one another mutual permission to “admit” there is no God. There is no transcendent reality. There is no hope, really, except the very real hope, and the delightfully real hope, of further progress in human solidarity, in technology, in civil liberties and group rights, in the battle against disease and the effects of old age. If we can’t live forever, then let’s try and live well, for a while longer.
Some hope! We know that the only real hope is Faith, and the Church has the fulness of this Faith. We had better redouble our efforts, therefore, to show people that Catholicism is liberating. Historically, the Catholic faith has seemed to survive best, and thrive, in the lands where Catholicism has been identified with the struggle to preserve freedom. In Ireland and Poland, for example, Catholicism has been identified with resistance to foreign conquest and occupation, and until very recently the Faith has been quite strong in these two countries. In the old Habsburg provinces (modern Czech Republic) of Bohemia and Moravia, on the other hand, Catholicism was seen from the 15th century on as the persecutor of the Hussites, an indigenous, semi-heretical patriotic sect. Perhaps as a result, we find a very weak Catholicism today in the Czech Republic. In France the Church triumphed over Calvinism in the early 17th century after a long civil war, but she was identified with a monarchy which imposed a stifling religious uniformity. We all know how moribund Catholicism is in France today. In Germany, Catholicism was the minority religion after national unification in the 1870s, and Catholics were intermittently discriminated against. Perhaps because of this discrimination, the Church remained strong, in spite of the corrosive effects of an Enlightenment skepticism which was as powerful in Germany as anywhere else in Europe. Hitler feared the Church, so much so that he often declared in private conversations that he would “deal with” Catholicism only after other threats and enemies had been eliminated. His fear reminds us that our Catholic Faith can be, if it shows itself to be on the side of human freedom, an enormously powerful force in the secular world. Does the Church–do we as its members–show the face of freedom to 21st century religious indifferentists? Or does the Church all too often seem an oppressive institution? Please note that I am not advocating Liberal Catholicism here, but rather Catholic Truth as Liberation.
Fascinating post. Lewis seems to have nailed it. I particularly think there is a great deal to the idea that Christianity and society have been left battered because We have not been doing a particularly good job articulating the truth that Christianity has its roots in reason. We have allowed the secular culture to claim the mantle of science and reason, and the popular culture would not know the meaning of what either of these things were if it slapped them if the face. Lewis himself pointed this out, as did Blessed John Paul II in his encyclical “Faith and Reason”. The pagan world at least understood what logical proof was, and natural religion. In its own humble way there is an obscure little blog that is looking at just these issues. Some excerpts can be seen at http://catholicxray.com/is-faith-reasonable/ and at http://catholicxray.com/irrefutable-proof-for-the-existence-of-god-a-preview/
“I believe we ought to work not only at spreading the Gospel….”
I believe that too. But how do we overcome the constant bombardment of the opposite of the Gospel through the media? It has such a powerful effect on the mind and its everywhere. Sure, Christ can do anything, but what’s the best strategy?
The Chronicles of Narnia series becomes famous after so many years after he’s been deceased. I find it weird that his books never became popular when he published them. I like the generalization of the whole story, such as “The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe.” I like his work that he’s done. He’s brought an interpretation of the bible, and formed it in a children story in a way they get a jist of the whole story. I’m just a little surprised it wasn’t more popular when he first came out with this book. Religion was more anticipated and people thought in most cases is that religion comes first. You don’t see that as much anymore. I wonder why the series was recently brought up in interest compared to 50 or so years ago.
The Chronicles of Narnia series becomes famous after so many years after he’s been deceased. I find it weird that his books never became popular when he published them. Now-a-days people from all over the world enjoy reading this series and it actually is one of the best selling books. The way the story is presented is creative, and aimed in a way for kids to relate and get a better feel for a generalization of the bible. I like the generalization of the whole story, such as “The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe.” I like his work that he’s done. He’s brought an interpretation of the bible, like I said earlier and formed it in a children story. People all over the world enjoy this series of books and it’s all ages. This series is just perfect. I’ve actually never read it until I attended Mayville State University, and I am now a fan of the series. I actually want to read more than this book. I am truly intrigued by the way he orchestrated the whole story such as “The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe.” I’m just a little surprised it wasn’t more popular when he first came out with this book. Religion was more anticipated and people thought in most cases is that religion comes first. You don’t see that as much anymore. I wonder why the series was recently brought up in interest compared to 50 or so years ago. Although this happened recently, I’m glad that this story made it where it made it. People can enjoy his works, even when he’s not alive anymore. It’s kinda cool.
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