Sign up to receive e-mails and get a free e-book: Why God is Using C. S. Lewis Today!
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.Feel free to share this post
This video was shot in the orchard garden behind The Kilns in Oxford. I summarize Lewis’ three main observations about Jesus’ prayer in the garden of Gethsemane in his book, Letters to Malcolm. I will not be using this clip in my new course on the book, because the lighting didn’t work, as you will be able to see. I wasn’t real wild about how it went either. Anyhow, the clip is about 5 & a half minutes.Feel free to share this post
I recorded this 1 minute video in the sanctuary of Holy Trinity Church, Headington Quarry, the home church of C. S. Lewis. I refer to how Lewis takes the Church to task over its divisions related to The Lord’s Supper. Click on the link below to see it.
Sorry I’m behind posts, but this video course on Letters to Malcolm is keeping me pretty busy. It’s like preparing a sermon or two, then delivering them, plus recording them on video (with all that involves), every day! Whew!
I’ll be back on schedule when I get home. 🙂Feel free to share this post
If you are like me, the picture of the origin of the new heavens and the new earth in the last letter to “Malcolm” is a bit odd. It certainly is not the depiction of the after-life we find in Lewis’ other writings. Why has Lewis seemingly changed his view of the after-life? I’m not sure he really has.
The origin of this idea or “guess” as Lewis calls it of the afterlife is Owen Barfield’s idea of the power of the soul which we find in his book Saving Appearances. Lewis has already mentioned this book twice before in Letters to Malcolm. Barfield sees the soul through its participative and figuring power as capable of creating reality. In a sense, the soul is the source of being of the world we perceive and categorize. The soul has a creational power.
Lewis says the human soul – augmented, as it were, by its union with the creative power of the life of Christ Himself – is going to be the source of the New World and the new life to come. Yes, Christ is going to prepare a place for us, but he is going to do so through his enabling union with our souls. And as Barfield anticipated centuries of human life as necessary for the recreation of the human idea of reality in this world, so Lewis says it is going to take aeons for our souls to recreate the new world.
This is why his depiction of the after-life strikes us. It’s not the traditional idea. It’s a Barfieldian resurrection; a Barfieldian after-life. Why does Lewis do this? Does he really believe that this is the nature of the resurrection? I’m not so sure.
He says he’s only guessing. He certainly has not depicted the after-life in this fashion before. Lewis went along with a lot of what Barfield said about the powers of the soul, but he stopped short at their ability to actually affect objective reality. Is it possible – and frankly, it strikes me as just the kind of thing Lewis might do – that he is here at the end of his book winking at Barfield and saying, “OK, Owen. All these years I’ve denied this much power to the soul, but I tell you what. I’ll grant it to you in the after-life! There all things are possible – even your idea of the soul.” It could be. But then, I’m only guessing back at Lewis. What do you think? 🙂Feel free to share this post
While preparing for my Letters to Malcolm course, I’ve been reading a bit in Bonhoeffer’s Life Together. Since Lewis’ book is about private prayer and not corporate, I wanted to see if Bonhoeffer would raise any issues about corporate prayer that would act as a foil to Lewis.
Anyhow, I’ve just read Bonhoeffer on how important it is to have prayer in the morning before going to work. His words about our daily work are really insightful. But I pause a bit at the way he talks so absolutely about the relation of morning prayer and work, or “how our day goes.” It’s just because of what my own experience has been through the years regarding the matter of praying before you do anything else in the day. Here’s my reaction:
I have found this rule about morning prayer and work to be generally true. But if for some reason we miss this particular time for prayer in the morning, the Lord’s mercies are through the whole day. We may suspect that our struggles through the day may have been lessened had we prayed, but we can bank on God mercifully hearing us through the day when we need him. We have to beware of thinking we are locked into an automatic equation: no morning prayer = no good day. It leads to a legalistic relating to the Lord and a mercenary attitude as well. We want to pray in the morning because it is the right thing to do and God deserves our praises – not so we can have a happier or more successful day. Our life with God is based, not on our performance in any duty, but in the mercy and grace of God to us through Christ. My 2 cents.
What are your thoughts about it? Do you feel down or oppressed in someway if you have missed a time of prayer first thing in the morning? Why is prayer at the beginning of the day so important to you?
Image: wikimedia commonsFeel free to share this post