Holy Trinity Church, Headington Quarry; the home church of C. S. Lewis
Anyone who tries to keep up with the secondary literature on Lewis has to recognize that the idea of Lewis being a misogynist is pure balderdash. One of the greatest proofs of this fact is his essay in God in the Dock: “Priestesses in the Church.” While some look at this essay as a proof of the opposite, a close reading of it demonstrates his great esteem for the opposite sex.
In this essay, Lewis says that women are perfectly capable of doing all the things a man may do as a priest in the Church, save only one thing, and that one thing has nothing to do with capability. It has to do with the reality of gender in God’s universe. Our Lord is a guy. When the priest – standing in for the Lord – speaks as God’s representative to the Church (the Bride of Christ), the imagery presented requires that a man fill this role.
I have not, however, gotten back into this essay because I want to write about the idea of priestesses. I do so because of the glimpse that it gives us of one aspect of Lewis’ Anglicanism. We find here Lewis being sensitive to the imagery presented by the traditional liturgy. He writes as one who accepts and appreciates it. Indeed, it is this appreciation for the imagery in the liturgy in this particular instance that gives the reason for his position on priestesses. If he did not abide by this meaning behind the priest’s role in a particular part of the liturgy, he would have no reason to argue against priestesses.
Henry Blamires is quoted by Lyle Dorsett as saying, “Lewis was at times quite high on the Anglican spectrum and at other times rather low. It all depended upon the doctrine and the practice.” (1) We know that historic, low-church Anglicanism which used the Prayer Book and the basic elements of the traditional liturgy would not have made much of the imagery at issue above, though it is congruent with it. Holy Trinity, Headington Quarry – Lewis’ home church – was of this ilk. But it is apparent that, when Lewis attended his church, he did not have the same distaste for its liturgy that he may have had for the hymns being used – we know he tended not to like those. He appreciated the symbolic imagery he viewed at worship. One would also conclude that he would not have appreciated today’s low church Evangelical Anglicanism, which hardly consults the Prayer Book at all, and has little respect for the priestly imagery in the liturgy.
It must be mentioned, however, that in the first letter of Letters to Malcolm, Lewis states that he could bear with any liturgy just as long as it is the same at every service. This does not, of course, undo anything he has said in the above essay.
Being the imaginative and aesthetically oriented man that he was, it is no surprise that he would pick up on the symbolic imagery of the traditional liturgy and appreciate it. For those of us who are interested in Lewis as a case-study of Anglican laity, he reminds us of that great company that has tread and still treads The Narrow Road to Glory, uplifted and strengthened by the beauty of the drama in the traditional liturgy, as composed by Cranmer in The Book of Common Prayer.
Do you have a story of how the liturgy of the Prayer Book has been a benefit to you spiritually? Why not share it with us in the comments below. Thanks!
(1) Lyle Dorsett, Seeking the Secret Place – The Spiritual Formation of C. S. Lewis, p. 97.
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