What did CS Lewis think of the Puritans?
It is sometimes implied that Lewis leant as equally towards Catholic as Protestant doctrine. Some might wrongly assume that his views on hell and the afterlife (for those outside of the Christian faith) meant that he wasn’t familiar with Reformed teaching or the works of the Puritans.
But even a superficial reading of his masterpiece of literary criticism, English Literature in the Sixteenth Century (excluding drama), plunges us straight into his well-formed opinions of the major influences on that century and the centuries that followed it.
His discussion of puritan and reformed thinking is not only easy to grasp but thoroughly enjoyable. Typical of 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.’
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 the experience of joy and 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