Love Your Neighbour (I)

I said in a previous chapter that chastity was the most unpopular of the Christian virtues. But I am not sure I was right. I believe there is one even more unpopular. It is laid down in the Christian rule, ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.’ Because in Christian morals ‘thy neighbour’ includes ‘thy enemy’, and so we come up against this terrible duty of forgiving our enemies.

Every one says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have something to forgive, as we had during the war. And then, to mention the subject at all is to be greeted with howls of anger. It is not that people think this too high and difficult a virtue: it is that they think it hateful and contemptible. ‘That sort of talk makes them sick,’ they say. And half of you already want to ask me, ‘I wonder how you'd feel about forgiving the Gestapo if you were a Pole or a Jew?’

So do I. I wonder very much. Just as when Christianity tells me that I must not deny my religion even to save myself from death by torture, I wonder very much what I should do when it came to the point. I am not trying to tell you in this book what I could do — I can do precious little — I am telling you Christianity is. I did not invent it. And there, right in the middle of it, I find ‘Forgive us our sins as we forgive those that sin against us.’ There is no slightest suggestion that we are offered forgiveness on any other terms. It is made perfectly clear that if we do not forgive we shall not be forgiven. There are no two ways about it. What are we to do?

C.S. Lewis – Mere Christianity - Book 3: Christian Behaviour ‘Forgiveness’

The C. S. Lewis Story

I am in the midst of writing The Professor of Narnia: The C. S. Lewis Story which will be published by Believe Books in September 2008. This will be a biography of C. S. Lewis targeted for older children and youth.

Here is a description of the book:

Have you ever wanted to meet the man behind the magical land of Narnia? Now you can meet C. S. Lewis, the Oxford tutor and Cambridge professor who wrote the seven books: The Chronicles of Narnia. Learn what made the creator of the most beloved fairy tales of the 20th century the man who he was. Along the way you will visit all the important places of Lewis’s life: from Belfast, Northern Ireland to the steps of the Parthenon in Greece and you will also meet some of Lewis’s best friends, like J. R. R. Tolkien, author of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.

Your tour guide for this fabulous journey is Will Vaus, author of Mere Theology: A Guide to the Thought of C. S. Lewis, founder of three C. S. Lewis Societies, leader of a C. S. Lewis tour to England, and one of the few people in the world who actually lived in The Narnia Cottage in Ireland. Will stepped through the wardrobe door for the first time when he was 9 years old, and now that he has three sons of his own he knows how much every young person who reads the Narnia books or has seen the blockbuster Disney/Walden Media Narnia movies wants to know more about the author of these delightful stories, C. S. Lewis. So come along for the ride and you may even get to meet the great lion Aslan himself.

Will Vaus (M. Div., Princeton Theological Seminary) has served as a pastor in California, the Carolinas and Pennsylvania. He is the President of Will Vaus Ministries, an international creative communications outreach.

Literary Influences and the Critics

I don't think Tolkien influenced me, and I am certain that I didn't influence him. That is, didn't influence what he wrote. My continual encouragement, carried to the point of nagging, influenced him very much to write at all with that gravity and at that length. In other words I acted as a midwife not as a father. The similarities between his work and mine are due, I think, (a) To nature - temperament. (b) to common sources. We are both soaked in Norse mythology, George MacDonald's fairy-tales, Homer, Beowulf, and medieval romance. Also, of course, we are both Christians (he, an R.C.).

The relevance of your problem to 'Higher Criticism' is extremely important. Reviewers of his books and mine, both friendly & hostile, constantly put forward imaginary histories of their composition. I do not think any one of these has ever borne the slightest resemblance to the real history. (e.g. they think his deadly Ring is a symbol of the atom bomb. Actually his myth was developed long before the atom bomb had been heard of).

You see the moral. These critics, in dealing with us, have every advantage which modern scholars lack in dealing with Scripture. They are dealing with authors who have the same mother tongue, the same education, and inhabit the same social & political world as their own, and inherit the same literary traditions. In spite of this, when they tell us how the books were written they are all wildly wrong! After that what chance can there be that any modern scholar can determine how Isaiah or the Fourth Gospel… came into existence? I should put the odds at 10,000 to 1 against you all.

The Narnian series is not exactly allegory. I'm not saying “Let us represent in terms of märchen (Fairy Tales) the actual story of this world.” Rather, “Supposing the Narnia world, let us guess what form the activities of the Second Person or Creator, Redeemer, and Judge might take there.” This, you see, overlaps with allegory but is not quite the same.

C.S. Lewis - The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis: Volume III, Letter to Francis Anderson 23 Sept 1963

Lewis and Passion

The most passionate performance that night might have been Luciano Pavarotti's climactic aria from Puccini’s opera "Turandot.” Yet Puccini's magnificent music might not have stirred C. S. Lewis' heart as dramatically as did Richard Wagner's operas, especially "The Ring of the Nibelung." He was ecstatic about its mythical themes[10] and powerful music. In his book, Surprised by Joy, he described his passion:

"All this time I had still not heard a note of Wagner's music, though the very shape of the printed letters of his name had become to me a magical symbol.... I first heard a record of the Ride of the Valkyries.... To a boy already crazed with 'the Northernness' [the Norse and Germanic myths behind Wagner's work], the Ride came like a thunderbolt.... [I]t was... a new kind of pleasure, if indeed 'pleasure' is the right word, rather than trouble, ecstasy, astonishment, 'a conflict of sensations without name." [page 75]

"We are taught in the Prayer Book to 'give thanks to God for His great glory.'... I came far nearer to feeling this about the Norse gods whom I disbelieved in than I had ever done about the true God while I believed. Sometimes I can almost think that I was sent back to the false gods there to acquire some capacity for worship...." [page 77]

But God warns us, "You love evil more than good...." [Psalm 52:3] "

C.S. Lewis - Surprised by Joy

Auden on Williams

The poet W. H. Auden, who worked with Williams on a collection of Poetry he edited for Oxford University Press, had perhaps a stronger response to Williams. Many years after first meeting him, he would recall that interview in surprising terms and mark it as one of the events that led him to embrace the Christian faith:

"For the first time in my life, [I] felt myself in the presence of personal sanctity... I had met many good people before who made me feel ashamed of my own shortcomings but in the presence of this man... I did not feel ashamed. I felt transformed into a person who was incapable of doing or thinking anything base or unloving (I later discovered that he had had a similar effect on many other people.)"

How could a conversation about 'literary business' generate such an aura of 'personal sanctity'? ... Williams simply made an exceptionally powerful impression on almost all who knew him... though in more variable ways...

From The Narnian: The Life and Imagination of C.S. Lewis by Alan Jacobs (HarperCollins, 2005) pages 196-198.

On the Death of Charles Williams

[Longwall Street, Oxford]

This is what John Wain, an undergrad during the war but later Professor of Poetry, wrote on hearing of Williams' death: “I was walking from Longwall Street, where I lodged, towards St. John's, and had just reached the Clarendon Building when a girl I knew by sight came peddling round the corner from New College Lane. "John", she called out, "Charles Williams is dead." She had never spoken to me before, and normally would have avoided using my Christian name. But this was a general disaster, like an air-raid, and the touch of comradliness was right. I asked her for details, but she knew nothing except that he was dead. In any case, she could not talk, she was only just not crying. I walked on towards St. John's. The war with Germany was over. Charles Williams was dead. And suddenly Oxford was a different place. There was still so much to enjoy, much to love and hate, much to get used to; but the war-time Oxford of my undergraduate days had disappeared. Its pulse had stopped with the pulse of Williams."

John Wain was also, of course, a member of the Inklings

Why desire Heaven?

["The Plains of Heaven" by John Martin. This wonderful (and huge) painting can be seen in the London Tate Gallery -- worth a visit just to see it]

We are very shy nowadays of even mentioning heaven. We are afraid of the jeer about 'pie in the sky', and of being told that we are trying to 'escape' from the duty of making a happy world here and now into dreams of a happy world elsewhere. But either there is 'pie in the sky' or there is not. If there is not, then Christianity is false, for this doctrine is woven into its whole fabric. If there is, then this truth, like any other, must be faced, whether it is useful at politicial meetings or not. Again, we are afraid that heaven is a bribe, and that if we make it our goal we shall no longer be disinterested. It is not so. Heaven offers nothing that a mercenary soul can desire. It is safe to tell the pure in heart that they shall see God, for only the pure in heart want to. There are rewards that do not sully motives. A man's love for a woman is not mercenary because he wants to marry her, nor his love for poetry mercenary because he wants to read it, nor his love of exercise less disinterested because he wants to run and leap and walk. Love, by definition, seeks to enjoy its object.

C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain (1940)