Monday, August 29, 2016

The ScrewTape Letters by C. S. Lewis: A Commentary, part 7

Key Themes in The Screwtape Letters, or,
What we learn from Screwtape: part 3

          This is part 7 in a series of blog posts that is dedicated to The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis. To see part 1, click here; to see part 2, click here; to see part 3, click here; to see part 4, click here; to see part 5, click here; to see part 6, click here. In part 1 we introduced the Screwtape Letters and provided a brief outline of the book. In parts 2-4 we provided an analysis of the literary sources that inspired the Screwtape Letters. We saw that the two most obvious literary sources for The Screwtape Letters are (1) the biblical teachings on angels, demons, and sin, and (2) John Milton’s Paradise Lost. We then looked at a number of other influences, and references to other literature, that can be seen in the ScrewTape Letters. In part 5 we began an exposition of the key themes that are brought up in the Screwtape Letters. Due to the nature of the Letters, it is important to understand that Lewis is not providing an indepth philosophical or theological analysis of each subject, but, rather, is providing what might be called a popular-level analysis.
 In part 5 we looked at some comments that Lewis makes concerning the Natural Sciences, Time and Change (which might be considered a sub-category of natural philosophy, or Metaphysics--depending on how the subject is approached), and Metaphysics. In part 6, we looked at some comments that Lewis makes concerning Theology Proper (the doctrine of God), and Christology. Now, in part 7, we will look at comments that Lewis makes concerning Human Nature, Hamartiology (or the doctrine of sin), and Ecclesiology (the doctrine of the church).



Human Nature

            When discussing prayer, we first come across some statements by C. S. Lewis that give us a glimpse at his understanding of human nature—that which is common to all that can be said to be Human, and as human. He has Screwtape say, “they constantly forget, what you must always remember, that they are animals and that whatever their bodies do affects their souls.”[1] In the 8th letter Screwtape repeats the same claim, but in a different way, “Humans are amphibians—half spirit and half animal…As spirits they belong to the eternal world, but as animals they inhabit time. This means that while their spirit can be directed to an eternal object, their bodies, passions, and imaginations are in continual change, for to be in time means to change.”[2]

Later he says, “Think of your man as a series of concentric circles, his will being the innermost, his intellect coming next, and finally his fantasy.”[3] In this little phrase we get a hint of Lewis’s understanding of the composition of man. We already know that he sees humans as a composition of body and soul, but that we can distinguish, within the human person (not a “Real distinction”, but a distinction of reason), the “fantasy” or imagination, the intellect, and the will. Lewis seems to suggest that the Imagination is that which is most affected by experience or the senses. That the intellect is influenced by the imagination, and that the will is influenced by the intellect. Concerning the human will, Lewis is quite adamant that humans have freedom of the will.[4]

Humans are temporal beings, and this temporality invades everything they do, “The humans live in time, and experience reality successively. To experience much of it, therefore, they must experience many different things; in other words, they must experience change.”[5] Though humans are temporal, changing, creatures, they were destined for eternity.[6]


Hamartiology

            This book is, in a sense, a book on sin and sins. Too lay out everything Lewis says about sin and sins in this little book would require a book length commentary, as such, we will only note one comment that C. S. Lewis makes, which are particularly interesting. He proposes that all sin is rooted in the future, saying, “nearly all vices are rooted in the future. Gratitude looks to the past and love to the present; fear, avarice, lust, and ambition look ahead. Do not think lust an exception.”[7]


Ecclesiology

            Lewis says quite a bit about the church, both the local and the universal church, in the letters of Screwtape. Speaking of the universal church Lewis describes it, through the pen of Screwtape, as “the Church as we see her spread out through all time and space and rooted in eternity, terrible as an army with banners.”[8] He not only notes that the universal church transcends time and space, but he also refers to it as invisible (another title that it has sometimes received), “it is quite invisible to these humans.”[9] In the preceding sentence he alludes to what Jesus said about the universal church in Matthew 16:18 “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Screwtape says, concerning the universal church, “That, I confess, is a spectacle which makes our boldest tempters uneasy.”[10]

            What does Lewis think about the Local church? One of the immediately obvious aspects of the local church, in Lewis’s understanding, is that it is filled with all kinds of different people from different levels of society,[11] who are sinners saved by grace, but still humans struggling with very real sins and temptations.[12] In the sixteenth chapter Lewis has Screwtape describe the church as follows, “being unity of place and not of likings, it brings people of different classes and psychology together in the kind of unity the Enemy desires.”[13] Another aspect of the local church is its size and, more importantly, its many warring factions, as they appearance to outsiders.[14] Lewis notes that the smaller the church, and the more it is fractured by inner divisions (regardless the reason), the more it will appear (to outsiders) like a cult.[15] The more it appears like a cult, the less it will be able to successfully preach the gospel.[16] The cult-like factions push men away from the Gospel, rather than drawing them in. Lewis comes back to this point in the 16th letter.[17]

            Lewis also discusses the importance of faithfulness to the local church. That is, it is not appropriate, thinks Lewis, to visit different churches incessantly. Rather, one should be faithful to his local assembly.[18] The purpose of church attendance is not to find a church that suits one’s tastes, but, rather to modify one’s tastes so that they conform to God’s desire for the Christian—to become a disciple.[19] Lewis also has something to say, interestingly enough, about church polity, “The congregational principle, on the other hand, makes each church into a kind of club, and finally, if all goes well, into a coterie or faction.”[20] In other words, congregationalism is seen to be a form of church polity which is useful for creating the divisive factions, mentioned earlier, which are detrimental to the spread of the Gospel. Lewis explains that what God desires for “the layman in church is an attitude which may, indeed, be critical in the sense of rejecting what is false or unhelpful, but which is wholly uncritical in the sense that it does not appraise—does not waste time in thinking about what it rejects, but lays itself open in uncommenting, humble receptivity to any nourishment that is going.”[21]

            He doesn’t say much about church practice, except to say, first of all, that if they are made into a routine, then it is possible to think oneself Christian, when one is only imitating true Christianity.[22] He notes, secondly, that some debates about the Lord’s supper are pointless (because those engaging in the debates don’t properly understand the points of the “sides” they have taken), and are more about semantics than truth.[23]



[1]Ibid., 25.

[2]Ibid., 44.

[3]Ibid., 37.

[4]Ibid., 46, 139.

[5]Ibid., 126-127.

[6]Ibid., 143, 157.

[7]Ibid., 77-78.

[8]Ibid., 15.

[9]Ibid.

[10]Ibid.

[11]Ibid., 76-77.

[12]Ibid., 18.

[13]Ibid., 81.

[14]Ibid., 41.

[15]Ibid.

[16]Ibid.

[17]Ibid., 84.

[18]Ibid., 81.

[19]Ibid.

[20]Ibid.

[21]Ibid., 82.

[22]Ibid., 61-62.

[23]Ibid., 84.



Saturday, August 27, 2016

The ScrewTape Letters by C. S. Lewis: A Commentary, part 6

Key Themes in The Screwtape Letters, or,
What we learn from Screwtape: part 2

          This is part 6 in a series of blog posts that is dedicated to The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis. To see part 1, click here; to see part 2, click here; to see part 3, click here; to see part 4, click here; to see part 5, click here. In part 1 we introduced the Screwtape Letters and provided a brief outline of the book. In parts 2-4 we provided an analysis of the literary sources that inspired the Screwtape Letters. We saw that the two most obvious literary sources for The Screwtape Letters are (1) the biblical teachings on angels, demons, and sin, and (2) John Milton’s Paradise Lost. We then looked at a number of other influences, and references to other literature, that can be seen in the ScrewTape Letters. In part 5 we began an exposition of the key themes that are brought up in the Screwtape Letters. Due to the nature of the Letters, it is important to understand that Lewis is not providing an indepth philosophical or theological analysis of each subject, but, rather, is providing what might be called a popular-level analysis.
 In part 5 we looked at some comments that Lewis makes concerning the Natural Sciences, Time and Change (which might be considered a sub-category of natural philosophy, or Metaphysics--depending on how the subject is approached), and Metaphysics. Here, in part 6, we will look at some comments that Lewis makes concerning Theology Proper (the doctrine of God), and Christology.



Theology Proper

            Throughout this little book we find God described in many different ways. The fictional author is, of course, a fallen angel, so God is frequently referred to as “The Enemy”, but we also find many other descriptions which give us insight into Lewis’s understanding of the divine nature. For example, in the fourth letter we are told that God is pure spirit.[1] In describing the human incapacity to know the nature of God, which we will consider below, Lewis also describes God as the “completely real, external, invisible Presence, there with him in the room.”[2] We see, here, that Lewis is (1) denying that God is a construct of the human intellect—as Freudians and many atheists would propose. Rather God is completely real and outside of the human intellect. Lewis also alludes to (2) God’s Omnipresence, (3) divine transcendence and immanence, and (4) Divine invisibility or, rather, that the divine nature cannot be seen. Of particular interest is how Lewis has Screwtape refer to God as “The Presence”. There may also be an allusion to the claim that God is Being, the truly completely real existence that is itself, whereas all created things (everything other than God) simply receive Being from God and imitate God by being. Lewis, following Plato, Augustine, and Aquinas, may be referring to the notion that God is completely real, whereas created things are incompletely real—shadows, in a sense, of God’s Being. Whereas created things are real because they receive their existence from another, yet are never in complete possession of their essence; God is completely real—in complete and perfect possession of His essence (which is to Be). But perhaps I am reading too much into that phrase.

            Other aspects of the divine nature that we find in this book is that God is the creator,[3] inhabits eternity,[4] the creator of all true pleasures,[5] and one Being that is entirely distinct from all created things.[6] Another theme that comes up frequently is God’s love for humanity, something which the demons are incapable of understanding. It is God’s love for humanity that drives His desire to redeem and sanctify fallen men.[7] Screwtape later says, “He really loves the hairless bipeds He has created.”[8] In the 19th letter, Lewis has Screwtape attempt to revise his statement about God’s love for humanity, “All His talk about Love must be a disguise for something else.”[9] This provides Lewis with the opportunity to note that God’s love for Humanity is a self-giving Love which ultimately culminates in the cross.[10]

            We also see the undoubted evidence that Lewis believes in the doctrine of the Trinity, for he has Screwtape say, discussing how humans see God in their prayers, “There will be images derived from pictures of the Enemy as He appeared during the discreditable episode known as the Incarnation: there will be vaguer—perhaps quite savage and puerile—images associated with the other two Persons.”[11]

            Lewis also discusses how humans understand, or perceive, God. We find that he is fully in agreement with scriptures when he has Screwtape note that “humans do not start from that direct perception of Him,”[12] for, as the Scriptures frequently repeat, no man has seen God (while in their earthly body).[13] Rather, humans have a very physical understanding of God. Lewis has Screwtape stat that “If you examine the object to which he [the human subject] is attending [in prayer], you will find that it is a composite object containing many quite ridiculous ingredients. There will be images derived from pictures of the Enemy as He appeared during the discreditable episode known as the Incarnation: there will be vaguer—perhaps quite savage and puerile—images associated with the other two Persons.”[14] Note how Lewis is subtly pointing out that humans tend to think of God as composed, when He is, in fact, simple. Our human intellects are incapable of comprehending something that is absolutely simple. We can only think of things that are composed objects. This human incapacity to truly grasp the nature of God is reinforced, first, by that which should be the object of human prayers, in a formula that reminds us of Augustine and Anselm, “Not to what I think thou art but to what thou knowest thyself to be.”[15] Lewis goes on to describe God’s nature and man’s feeble knowledge of it in the following description, “the completely real, external, invisible Presence, there with him in the room and never knowable by him as he is known by it.”[16]

            Lewis notes that God has “the power to be sensibly present to human souls in any degree He chooses and at any moment”,[17] but that He freely chooses to not use that power.


Christology

Jesus is not mentioned all that much in this little book, however, the familiar doctrines of the Incarnation,[18] the cross of Christ,[19] and the historicity of the Resurrection.[20] Lewis also clearly states that Jesus is the Creator.[21] We are also told that Jesus, in heaven, still “wears the form of a Man”, even in His heavenly glory.[22]

Go to part 7.



[1]Lewis, TSL, 26.

[2]Ibid., 28.

[3]Ibid., 74, 97.

[4]Ibid., 76, 138-139.

[5]Ibid., 112.

[6]Ibid., 96.

[7]Ibid., 45.

[8]Ibid., 74.

[9]Ibid., 97.

[10]Ibid.

[11]Ibid., 27.

[12]Ibid., 26.

[13]For they will see Him in heaven. Cf. Ibid., 159.

[14]Ibid., 26-27.

[15]Ibid., 27.

[16]Ibid., 28.

[17]Ibid., 46.

[18]Ibid., 27.

[19]Ibid., 97.

[20]Ibid., 119.

[21]Ibid., 118.

[22]Ibid., 159.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

The ScrewTape Letters by C. S. Lewis: A Commentary, part 5

Key Themes in The Screwtape Letters, or,

What we learn from Screwtape

          This is part 5 in a series of blog posts that is dedicated to The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis. To see part 1, click here; to see part 2, click here; to see part 3, click here; to see part 4, click here. In part 1 we introduced the Screwtape Letters and provided a brief outline of the book. In parts 2-4 we provided an analysis of the literary sources that inspired the Screwtape Letters. We saw that the two most obvious literary sources for The Screwtape Letters are (1) the biblical teachings on angels, demons, and sin, and (2) John Milton’s Paradise Lost. We then looked at a number of other influences, and references to other literature, that can be seen in the ScrewTape Letters. We turn now to an exposition of the key themes that are brought up in the Screwtape Letters. This part is a little bit touchy, because, as Lewis says in the preface, Satan is a liar. However, I think that we can discover a number of important themes that reflect the views of C. S. Lewis on key philosophical and theological issues. Due to the nature of the Letters, it is important to understand that Lewis is not providing an indepth philosophical or theological analysis of each subject, but, rather, is providing what might be called a popular-level analysis.


            There seems to be some debate as to the “orthodoxy” of C. S. Lewis. Some people, for example, seem absolutely “hell-bent” on proving that C. S. Lewis either did not believe in a real Hell, others that C. S. Lewis held to defective views of the atonement, the means of salvation, the extent of salvation, the scriptures, etc. We will not be able to address all of these subjects here, as Lewis himself does not address them all in this book, but we will, in what follows, attempt to outline some of the most important things that we learn from this little book. We will here consider some comments that Lewis makes concerning the Natural Sciences, Time and Change (which might be considered a sub-category of natural philosophy, or Metaphysics--depending on how the subject is approached), and Metaphysics.


The Natural Sciences

            Lewis does not say much about the Natural Sciences in the Screwtape Letters, but he does let on that he thinks that if you study the Natural Sciences enough you will end up arriving at conclusions that will most likely draw you towards God and Christianity. He notes that many modern physicists have been drawn towards God because their scientific research encouraged them “to think about realities he can’t touch and see.”[1]


Time and Change

           The notions of time and change are two very important concepts that every philosopher and theologian must deal with. What is time? What is Change? What is the relationship between time and Change? How is man related to these two? Even in this small book Lewis makes some comments about time and change which reveal his views on the matter. First of all, it is obvious that he sees a distinct relationship between change and time. That which does not change is timeless in an eternal present (“For the Present is the point at which time touches eternity.”[2]), and, “to be in time means to change.”[3]

Discussing time itself, and specifically human experience of time, Lewis says, first of all, that, “In a word, the Future is, of all things, the thing least like eternity. It is the most completely temporal part of time—for the Past is frozen and no longer flows, and the Present is all lit up with eternal rays.”[4] Thus, to live in the present, is to be most like God, who IS in an eternal present. Secondly, “The humans live in time, and experience reality successively. To experience much of it, therefore, they must experience many different things; in other words, they must experience change. And since they need change, the Enemy (being a hedonist at heart) has made change pleasurable to them .”[5] One need not be distracted by the topological portrayal of man as being “in” time, as this it is common to talk of time in spatial terms. Note, however, how humans are, by nature (as created by God), changing beings, but God is unchanging. Humans, therefore, are temporal, and God is not.


Metaphysics

            There is not a whole lot of drawn out metaphysical speculation in this book (fallen angels do their best to keep themselves, and humankind, from thinking about the Real), however, in the 30th letter Lewis has Screwtape discuss the meaning of the word “real”, in order to teach Wormwood how to keep the subject from thinking about the real. Here Lewis has Screwtape distinguish between (1) the use of “Real” whereby “‘Real’ means the bare physical facts, separated from the other elements in the experience they actually had.”[6] And (2) the use of “Real” whereby “‘real’ is being used in the opposite sense to mean, not the physical facts…but the emotional effect those facts will have on a human consciousness.”[7] Lewis says, “Either application of the word could be defended”, but “The general rule which we have now pretty well established among them is that in all experiences which can make them happier or better only the physical facts are ‘Real’ while the spiritual elements are ‘subjective’.”[8]

            There are a number of comments that we can note here. First of all, Lewis is very much a realist. One of the meanings of “Real” refers to that which is, regardless of how existing beings are interpreted by those who come in contact with them. This is the primary sense of “Reality” for Lewis, the sum total of all those things which are, regardless of how humans interpret them. Secondly, Lewis does not deny the “reality”—the actual existence—of our subjective interactions with that which is (i.e. – the meanings that we give to that which is, our interpretations of that which is, how that which is makes us feel). Thirdly, he not only sees materialism (the notion that only those things which can be experienced by the senses of humans can qualify as Real) as false, but as a diabolical creation which is used by the fallen angels to trick humanity into rejecting the reality—indeed the ultimate reality—of God.[9] I wonder, fourthly, if there is not a subtle strike at the hermeneutical philosophy of Martin Heidegger (as a creation of the Devil) in the notion that that which is Real is my reaction to that which presents itself to me, rather than the thing itself, and, not just any reactions, but reactions such as dread and despair.[10]

Go to part 6.


[1]Lewis, TSL, 14.

[2]Ibid., 76.

[3]Ibid., 44.

[4]Ibid., 77.

[5]Ibid., 126-127.

[6]Ibid., 154.

[7]Ibid.

[8]Ibid.

[9]We also see this notion in the very first letter. Cf. Ibid., 11-12.

[10]Ibid., 155.