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Why C.S. Lewis Was Not Roman Catholic

lewisIn (The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Volume II, pp. 645-647)

Lewis was asked: “I would not dare ask you to write to me what you consider to be the arguments which throw the decision to the Anglican and against the Roman Catholic Church. But I do dare ask you if you would do me the great favor or recommending the books which, in your opinion, present these arguments most persuasively” (H. Lyman Stebbins, ‘The boldness of a Stranger’,  Laywitness, 19 (November 1998), p.7). Lewis responded with the present letter. In the end Stebbins was received into the Catholic Church on 28 May 1946.

To H. Lyman Stebbins (BOD):

May 8th 1945
Magdelen College,

My position about the Churches can best be made plain by an imaginary example. Suppose I want to find out the correct interpretation of Plato’s teaching. What I am most confident in accepting is that interpretation wh. is common to all the Platonists down all the centuries: what Aristotle and the Renaissance scholars and Paul Elmer More agree on I take to be true Platonism. Any purely modern views wh. claim to have discovered for the first time what P. meant, and say that everyone from Aristotle down has misunderstood him, I reject out of hand.

But there is something else I d. also reject. If there were an ancient Platonic Society still existing at Athens and claiming to be the exclusive trustees of P’s meaning, I sh. approach them with great respect. But if I found that their teaching in many ways was curiously unlike his actual text and unlike what ancient interpreters said, and in some cases cd. not be traced back to within 1000 years of his time, I shd. reject these exclusive claims: while still ready, of course, to take any particular thing they taught on its merits.

I do the same with Xtianity. What is most certain is the vast mass of doctrine wh. I find agreed on by Scripture, the Fathers, the Middle Ages, modern R.C.’s, modern Protestants. That is true ‘catholic’ doctrine. Mere ‘modernism’ I reject at once.

The Roman Church where it differs from this universal tradition and specially from apostolic Xtianity I reject. Thus their theology about the B.V.M. I reject because it seems utterly foreign to the New Testament: where indeed the words ‘Blessed is the womb that bore thee’ receive a rejoinder pointing in exactly the opposite direction. Their papalism seems equally foreign tot eh attitude of St Paul towards St. Peter in the Epistles. The doctrine of Transubstantiation insists in defining in a way wh. the N.T. seems to me not to countenance. In a word, the whole set-up of modern Romanism seems to me to be as much a provincial or local variation from the central, ancient tradition as any particular Protestant sect is. I must therefore reject their claim: tho’ this does not mean rejecting particular things they say.

I’m afraid I haven’t read any modern books of Roman-Anglican controversy. Hooker (Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity) is to me the great formulation of Anglicanism. But the great point is that in one sense there’s no such thing as Anglicanism. What we are committed to believing is whatever can be proved from Scripture. On that subject there is room for endless progress. However you decide, good wishes. Mention me in your prayers.

Yours sincerely
C.S. Lewis


  1. RubeRad says:

    Fascinating! In addition to the content, I enjoyed his old-timey abbreviations.

  2. I always wondered why Lewis did not become Catholic, when Tolkein was. I also like the abbreviations!

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