Was Lewis “basically Catholic”?

By Thomas V. Mirus (bio - articles - email) | May 21, 2015

I must admit, it’s a pet peeve of mine when Catholics refer to C.S. Lewis as a Catholic author. When challenged, they usually say something along the lines of, “Well, he might as well have been!” I’m tempted to respond, “Well, he wasn’t, and he chose not to be for a reason, so let’s respect his choice instead of pretending he was.”

Not that I’m anti-Lewis by any means, but I don’t think we should gloss over the significant differences he had with Catholicism. It simply is not true that he was “this close to converting.” For that reason I enjoyed an illuminating article originally published in Mythlore, titled “Letters to Malcolm and the trouble with Narnia: C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and their 1949 crisis.”

The essay uses the friendship between Lewis and Tolkien and their eventual falling-out to explore the inconsistencies between Lewis’s work and Catholicism. In particular, the author (one Eric Seddon) asks the question of why Tolkien detested Lewis’s Narnia books. Seddon finds previous scholarly answers to this question (such as that Tolkien was simply jealous of Lewis’s ability to churn out successful works at a rapid pace) unsatisfying, and finds his own answer in the religious differences between the two men, as manifested in the Narnia stories in general and in the supposed Christ-figure of Aslan in particular.

I was particularly surprised to learn that Lewis’s view on the resurrection of the body was seemingly not even “orthodox” in the generic Protestant sense, let alone Catholic; this can be seen in his final theological work, Letters to Malcolm, which Seddon describes as Lewis’s “most overtly Anglican work,” “filled with theological barbs—most of them aimed at Roman Catholicism.” A year after Lewis’s death, Tolkien himself wrote:

It is sad that 'Narnia' and all that part of C.S.L.'s work should remain outside the range of my sympathy, as much of my work was outside his. Also, I personally found Letters to Malcolm a distressing and in parts horrifying work. I began a commentary [“The Ulsterior Motive”] on it, but if finished it would not be publishable.

Seddon not only shows that Lewis was not some kind of crypto-Catholic, but makes a good case that Tolkien’s distaste for Narnia was religious in nature.

Thomas V. Mirus is an administrative assistant and writer at CatholicCulture.org. A jazz pianist with a music degree, he often takes the lead in our commentary on the arts. See full bio.

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  • Posted by: skall391825 - May. 23, 2015 3:57 PM ET USA

    C.S. Lewis was as "Catholic" in his own way as Rush Limbaugh is today in his own way. I thank goodness for them both.

  • Posted by: polarhide2365 - May. 23, 2015 11:43 AM ET USA

    I have read and heard the "[Lewis] might as well have been [Catholic]" comment. It peeves me too. Interestingly Tolkien, in writing to his son commented that [Lewis] seemed to have a particular problem with Catholics. Here Tolkien was commenting on his perception of Lewis's ho hum reaction to the murder of Catholic clergy in the Spanish Civil War. That said, Lewis did give a powerful and simple argument in defense of Purgatory, a Catholic doctrine if ever there was one.

  • Posted by: AgnesDay - May. 22, 2015 1:58 PM ET USA

    From the "God writes straight with crooked lines" file, we note how many Protestants have been brought to the brink of the Tiber by CS Lewis, and who found the strength to make the crossing. How many of these would never have read Lewis if he had converted to Catholicism?