Why C.S. Lewis Never Became a Roman Catholic

The Roman Catholic writer Fr Dwight Longenecker recently asked and answered the question “Why Didn’t C. S. Lewis Ever Become Catholic?

In doing so, he relied on the Joseph Pearce work “C.S. Lewis and the Catholic Church”. And in doing so, he re-articulates the author’s argument:

Pearce explores Lewis’ family background and agrees with other commentators that Lewis had a blind spot when it came to Catholicism. To understand the blind spot, we first have to understand the politics of Northern Ireland…. A deep and abiding distrust of all things Catholic was thus bred into him from generations of Protestant ancestry.

But as a reviewer of that book contends, this explanation “borders on insult”:

This is not a new theory but it is one that Lewis himself denied in Surprised by Joy and most people no longer regard seriously. Pearce also goes on to say that Lewis “kowtowed” to his ancestors and their anti-catholic prejudices. All in all, he draws a portrait of Lewis, in this particular regard, that borders on insult…. It often seems Pearce is trolling for anything he can find that will suggest that Lewis was a conflicted, not a committed, Anglican–a thing that is certainly not true.

Lewis, in fact, gave his own reasons for why he never did, and in fact, could never become Roman Catholic:

“The real reason why I cannot be in communion with you [Catholics] is not my disagreement with this or that Roman doctrine, but that 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 also to what he is going to say.”

“Christian Reunion”, in Christian Reunion and Other Essays, edited by Walter Hooper, London: Collins, 1990, p. 17-18.

“The Roman Church where it differs from this universal tradition and specially from apostolic Christianity I reject. Thus their theology about the Blessed Virgin Mary I reject because it seems utterly foreign to the New Testament; where indeed the words “Blessed is the womb that bore thee” receive a rejoinder pointing in exactly the opposite direction. Their papalism seems equally foreign to the attitude of St. Paul toward St. Peter in the epistles. The doctrine of Transubstantiation insists on defining in a way which the New Testament seems to me not to countenance. In a word, the whole set-up of modern Romanism seems to me to be as much a provincial or local variation from the central, ancient tradition as any particular Protestant sect is. I must therefore reject their claim: though this, of course, does not mean rejecting particular things they say.”

June 16, 1945
Letter of C. S. Lewis to H. Lyman Stebbins, “The Boldness of a Stranger”

Research by Ken and originally posted at Beggars All Reformation and Apologetics.

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