CS Lewis and the Puritans

CS Lewis at his desk
CS Lewis at his desk

What did CS Lewis think of the Puritans?
It is sometimes implied that Lewis leant equally towards Catholic as Protestant doctrine. Some may assume that his thoughts on hell and the afterlife imply he was unimpressed with the theological emphasis of the works of the English puritans.

But in his academic masterpiece of literary criticism, English Literature in the Sixteenth Century (excluding drama), he demonstrates a thorough, personally informed view of the major theological influences on that century and those that followed.

His discussion of puritan and reformed thinking is not only easy to grasp but thoroughly enjoyable. Typical Lewis.

Here are a few gems to whet your appetite…

A correct understanding of the goal of puritanism
‘The puritans were so called because they claimed to be purists or purifiers in ecclesiastical polity: not because they laid more emphasis than other Christians on ‘purity’ in the sense of chastity.’

A correct understanding of the nature of ‘puritan’ experience
‘We want, above all, to know what it felt like to be an early Protestant.

One thing is certain. It felt very unlike being a ‘puritan’ such as we meet in nineteenth-century fiction. Dickens’s Mrs. Clennam, trying to expiate her early sin by a long life of voluntary gloom, was doing exactly what the first Protestants would have forbidden her to do. They would have thought her whole conception of expiation papistical. On the Protestant view one could not, and by God’s mercy, need not, expiate one’s sins.’

Luther understood Paul correctly, according to CS Lewis
Luther understood Paul correctly, according to CS Lewis

Tyndale and Luther properly understood Paul’s doctrine of Justification by Faith and not by works
‘In the mind of a Tyndale or Luther, as in the mind of St. Paul himself, this theology was by no means an intellectual construction made in the interests of speculative thought. It springs directly out of a highly specialized religious experience; and all its affirmations, when separated from that context, become meaningless or else mean the opposite of what was intended…’

‘Catastrophic Conversion’ essential to an experience of joy (or bliss)
‘The experience is that of catastrophic conversion.

The man who has passed through it feels like one who has waked from a nightmare into ecstasy.

Like an accepted lover, he feels that he has done nothing, and never could have done anything, to deserve such astonishing happiness. Never again can he ‘crow from the dunghill of desert’.

All the initiative has been on God’s side; all has been free, unbounded grace. And all will continue to be free, unbounded grace.

His own puny and ridiculous efforts would be as helpless to retain the joy as they would have been to achieve it in the first place.

Fortunately they need not. Bliss is not for sale, cannot be earned.

‘Works’ have no ‘merit’, though of course faith, inevitably, even unconsciously, flows out into works of love at once.

He is not saved because he does works of love: he does works of love because he is saved.

It is faith alone that has saved him: faith bestowed by sheer gift. From this buoyant humility, this farewell to the self with all its good resolutions, anxiety, scruples, and motive-scratchings, all the Protestant doctrines originally sprang.’

To read the next post (CS Lewis on Predestination) click here

To read a review of AN Wilson’s biography on Lewis click here

© 2013 Lex Loizides / Church History Blog


4 thoughts on “CS Lewis and the Puritans

  1. Kevyn Lee April 6, 2013 / 7:24 pm

    Thanks for writing this article Lex. This is a real encouragement reading about what C. S. Lewis’s beliefs were. It is also great to point out that he was just as much on the Catholic side as well as the Protestant. Also it was great of you to write about a general overview of Puritanism and how it related to Lewis’s belief himself. Thank you for writing this and shedding light on C. S. Lewis and what he was affirmed in. I also like the fact that you put the little blurb about Tyndale and Luther and how their doctrine are still very around and applicable to such a famous author.

  2. Errick Lee April 7, 2013 / 12:50 am

    This is great thanks for writting the article. It was a great idea to talk about Tyndale and Luther and how their doctrine are still around and applicable to this great author. It was great to know Lewis’ beliefs and a very great points on the Catholic and Protestant sides.

  3. Ian C. May 1, 2013 / 5:09 am

    It is very interesting and quite amazing to me how there is this concept of salvation through grace and not by works. It seems so natural in today’s society, and apparently C.S. Lewis’s time period too, that we try to work our way to somehow make up for our wrongs, or work our way out of punishment. This concept of not having to do anything, or even stranger, not being able to do anything to make up or punish ourselves for our wrongdoings to clean ourselves is contradictory to so many of our society’s teachings as well as our own mindsets. This focus on faith to save us seems a bit easy to hear, as it seems as though we don’t have to do anything to be saves. Yet in actuality, it is so much harder as it requires us to not fall into our natural mindset of working for salvation. Thanks for this clear explanation of Puritan beliefs in this great post!

  4. Taylor May 2, 2013 / 5:36 pm

    This article was very interesting to me and really helped m understand salvation through grace and not by works. I feel like in today’s society there is hardly anyone who really understands that meaning. Like you quoted, “he feels that he has done nothing and never could have done nothing to deserve such an astonishing happiness.” This is truly and amazing thing to say because it really does explain. You do nothing to receive anything and so automatically you should have grace because this is such a great thing to have and everyone has it. Salvation is always given and everyone can get it. Faith saves you and so does salvation and grace, while bliss can not be earned. I will surely remember this and apply it to my own life throughout my entire life and hope that is makes me a better person

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