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The Most Reluctant Convert; C. S. Lewis's Journey to Faith
David C. Downing

Seeking The Secret Place
The Spiritual Formation of C. S. Lewis
Lyle W. Dorsett
Brazos Press

These two books complement each other beautifully. Downing asks why Lewis became a Christian and Dorsett asks what happened to his spiritual development after his conversion. Dorsett is the better writer in my view. But the books are both great reads.

Downing notes that Lewis had a very happy childhood. Little wonder that he returned constantly to the theme of childhood throughout his adult life. All this changed when his mother died when he was aged nine: he felt as if the "great continent had sunk like Atlantis." His father appeared to have dealt with his own grief by emotionally distancing himself from his sons. They were both sent to boarding school, something that the grieving Lewis did not enjoy.

By the age of seventeen, Lewis had become an atheist. As Downing notes, of all the religions, Christianity for Lewis made the least sense from a purely philosophical view. There were probably many reasons for his atheism.

However, Downing brilliantly observes, quoting the great psychologist Paul Vitz in his work The Faith of the Fatherless, that so many atheists had distant father figures: Voltaire, Hume, Nietzsche, Russell, Sartre etc. Lewis thus had all the makings of the typical atheist.

Lewis also developed a fascination for the occult. A close associate was the psychoanalyst Dr John Askins, who had more than a passing interest in spiritualism. The psychological and possibly spiritual distress that Askins suffered in consequence led Lewis to believe that materialistic atheism was the sane choice.

Downing notes the enormous influence that Chesterton's The Everlasting Man had on Lewis's spiritual development. Lewis also began to note that many of his literary heroes took the Christian worldview for granted: Shakespeare, Milton, Johnson etc. While at Oxford, he could not help but note that many of the intellectually gifted were Christians, or at least "supernaturalists." The influence of the Catholic Tolkien was, of course, massive. Lewis became the most "dejected and reluctant convert" in 1929. By 1931, he was a fully believing Christian. A man who had been given to self-scrutiny became a truly self-forgetful Christian.

Downing has produced a detailed and masterful work on the conversion to Christianity of one of its most famous converts of the twentieth century.

Lyle Dorsett notes that while there have been many accounts of Lewis's conversion, not as much has been written about his subsequent spiritual development. In this fascinating work, Dorsett discusses Lewis's interior life, his understanding of prayer, the sacraments and scripture. Why does Lewis remain such an important figure for so many of us? Because, says Dorsett, his own spiritual life was deep. Lewis developed a regular habit of prayer because he believed that God who could of course convert the heathen without human intervention normally did so with the help of created humanity. He operates through secondary causation and prayer enables us to become the secondary causes: we should pray for the conversion of our neighbor because that is the will of God. God could indeed feed the hungry himself, but he normally does so with the help of farmers and bakers.And Lewis, an intellectual giant, prayed with childlike simplicity for the healing of many souls. He loved reading the New Testament in the original Greek and the Psalms were his regular devotional reading.

Lewis was a devout Anglican who detested sectarianism. He wanted all Christians to put aside their differences and join him in his "mere Christianity." However, he was in complete disagreement with low church Christians regarding several points of doctrine. For Lewis, receiving Holy Communion meant truly receiving the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. However, he rejected the Roman Catholic teaching that Holy Mass is a propitiatory sacrifice.

Lewis had a devotion to the Mother of God. He prayed for the dead. His spiritual director from 1940 to 1952 was the Anglo-Catholic priest Father Walter Adams. Lewis himself was a wonderful spiritual director to many souls especially by means of his letter writing. The liturgy, regular confession and veneration of the Holy Cross were all important for Lewis. Lewis famously wrote an essay opposing the ordination of women: one wonders if Lewis could have remained an Anglican had he lived to see the changes.

Copyright ©; Dr Pravin Thevathasan 2017

Version: 4th June 2017

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