Jon Kennedy
Jon Kennedy


Click to enlargeJon Kennedy's
'C. S. Lewis Overflow
'
Jon Kennedy's latest book is The Everything Guide to C.S. Lewis and Narnia, now in stores, from Adams Media, F&W Publications. This series of articles is thinking inspired by readings in Lewis's work that didn't fit into the book. Click here for a list of all articles in the C.S. Lewis Overflow series.

Notes from the Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Volume 3
Edited by Walter Hooper, Harper SanFrancisco, 2007, Part 3

I've had such a bad cold for the past six weeks that, atop the other things already mentioned here, it is also cutting into my writing time, as most of last weekend I just didn't have the energy to start entering these notes. Ironically, much of Lewis's attention in these same months of the years these letters were being written was on colds, sinusitis, and, especially, the flu. One year he told a correspondent he'd had three bouts with the flu in one term. But items like those in his letters seldom rate any mention here, as his physical stamina is not one of the topics I'm ever likely to be writing about. Ever again, anyway.

C. S. Lewis
 portriat by Val Craig Murray1951, continued

To Genia Goelz, June 13, p 126: "The Virgin Birth is a doctrine plainly stated in the Apostles Creed that Jesus had no physical father, and was not conceived as a result of sexual intercourse. It is not a doctrine on which there is any dispute between Presbyterians as such and Episcopalians as such. A few individual Modernists in both these churches have abandoned it; but Presbyterianism or Episcopalianism in general, and in actual historical instances, throughout the centuries both affirm it. The exact details of such a miracle — an exact point at which a supernatural force enters this world (whether by the creation of a new spermatozoon, or the fertilisation of an ovum without a spermatozoon, or the development of a foetus without an ovum) are not part of the doctrine. These are matters in which no one is obliged and everyone is free, to speculate."

Same, p 127: "Don't bother much about your feelings. When they are humble, loving, brave, give thanks for them: when they are conceited, selfish, cowardly, ask to have them altered. In neither case are they you, but only a thing that happens to you. What matters is your intentions and your behaviour."

Same: "Unless He wanted you, you would not be wanting Him." This is a reiteration of an oft-repeated theme in Lewis's writing.

To Mary Van Deusen, July 14, p 129: "Yes: Christ is the eternal, unique second Person of the Trinity: sharing His Sonship we can become sons of God in a real, but derived, manner." Another evidence of Lewis's "anonymous Orthodoxy."

To Ruth Pitter, July 17, p 130: "I have been sailing for the first time. I think it is a way in which people who can't dance can get some of what dancing was made to give."

To William L. Kinter, July 17, p 131: "We are all very thankful — and you are no doubt more so — to see that at last there is some prospect of an end to this ghastly Korean war. Our only fear now is that it may be replaced by a Persian one; but it will be time enough to cross that river when we come to it." Prophecy?

To George Sayer, August 15, p 133: "I've just been having Mumps. Humphrey [the nickname Lewis used for his physician] kept on quoting me bits out of The Problem of Pain, which I call a bit thick."

To Mary Van Deusen, September 12, p 135: "I wish I had known more when I wrote the Problem of Pain."

To Mrs. D. Jessup, Septebmer 12, p 135: "Yes, I shd. jolly well think I have met that problem of the division between loving hearts when one comes to believe and have known something of it in my own life." Possibly a reference to his relationship with Mrs. Moore at the time of his conversion, and afterward.

To Bernard Acworth, September 13, p 138: "I have read nearly the whole of Evolution and am glad you sent it. I must confess it has shaken me: not in my belief in evolution, which was of the vaguest and most intermittent kind, but in my belief that the question was wholly unimportant. I wish I was younger. That inclines me now to think that you may be right in regarding it as the central and radical lie in the whole web of falsehood that now governs our lives, is not so much your arguments against it as the fanatical and twisted attitudes of its defenders." Opponents of evolution as worldview are still making the latter point.

To Vera Mathews, September 15, p 138: "I have been really in quiet and almost unearthly spots in my native Ireland. I stayed for a fortnight in a bungalow which none of the peasants will approach at night because the desolate coast on which it stands is haunted by 'the Good People.' There is also a ghost but (and this is interesting) they don't seem to mind him: the faerie are a more serious danger."

To Bernard Acworth, October 4, p 141: "When a man has become a popular Apologist he must watch his step. Everyone is on the look out for things that might discredit him."

To Mis. Jessup, October 15, p 141: "Our regeneration is a slow process. As Charles Williams says there are three stages: (1.) The Old self on the Old Way. (2.) The Old Self on the new Way. (3.) The New Self on the New Way."

Same: "the Faith itself may have at first all the characteristics of a Fad and we may be as ill to live with as if we had taken up Nudism or Psychoanalysis or Pure Wool Clothing." I'm not sure what's most fascinating in this juxtaposition, but perhaps it's the insight into his views on psychoanalysis.

Same, p 142: "MacDonald says 'the time for speaking seldom arrives, the time for being never departs."

Footnote 148, p 143, quotes Lewis: "I have heard some people complain that if Jesus was God as well as man, then His sufferings and death lose all value in their eyes, 'because it must have been so easy for him.' If I am drowning in a rapid river, a man who still has one foot on the bank may give me a hand which saves my life. Ought I to shout back (between my gasps) 'No, it's not fair! You have an advantage! You're keeping one foot on the bank'? That advantage — call it 'unfair' if you like — is the only reason why he can be of any use to me. To what will you look for help if you will not look to that which is stronger than yourself?"

To Miss Tunnicliff, December 1, p 146: "No, I don't think I can frame every sentence for reading aloud in mixed company. I think books on such subjects are best read in solitude."

To the Prime Minister [Churchill]'s Secretary, December 4, p 147: "I feel greatly obliged to the Prime Minister, and so far as my personal feelings are concerned this honour would be highly agreeable. There are always however knaves who say, and fools who believe, that my religious writings are all covert anti-Leftist propaganda, and my appearance in the Honours List would of course strengthen their hands. It is therefore better that I should not appear there."

To Edward A. Allen, December 6, p 148: "I take it that if peace is made in Korea — which doesn't look very likely — it will merely be the prelude to an attack on France in Indo-China [later known as Vietnam] or ourselves in Malaya."

Same: "as King Louis XV used to say, 'things as they are will last out my time.'"

To Vera Mathews, December 12, p 149: "the short story is a genre I'm particularly bad on."

Same: "My brother asks me to add that he too looks forward to seeing the story, and that unfortunately he doesn't know India at all; he was once under orders to go there for five years, but with his usual ingenuity, managed to persuade the War Office to send him to West Africa for twelve months instead." This surprises because Warnie's youthful fascination was "India," though perhaps his fantasy India had little consonance with the real thing. And it's also amusing because, as the typist of this letter, Warnie probably appended this P.S. at his own initiative. By the same token, the reference to King Louis in the previous letter was probably Warnie's, as he was an expert on French monarchs.

To Warfield M. Firor, December 20, p 150: "a mistake in a history of literature walks in silence till the day it turns irrevocable in a printed book and the book goes for review to the only man in England who wd. have known it was a mistake. This, I supppose, is good for one's soul; and the kind of good I must learn to digest. I am going to be (if I live long enough) one of those men who was a famous writer in his forties and dies unknown — like Christian going down into the green valley of humiliation." The allusion is to Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress.

To Don Giovanni Calabria, December 26, p 151, is one of the most important letters in Lewis's collection on sanctification, and the quest toward holiness.

1952

To Edward A. Allen, January 8, p 155: "I doubt if there is a man in America besides yourself who would have seriously contemplated sending a private gift of coal to this country."

To Sister Penelope CSMV, January 10, p 157: "I have, if not thought, yet imagined, a good deal about the other kinds of Men. My own idea was based on the old problem 'Who was Cain's wife?' If we follow Scripture it wd. seem that she must have been no daughter of Adam's. I pictured the True Men descending from Seth, then meeting Cain's not perfectly human descendants (in Genesis vi. 1-4, where I agree with you), interbreeding and thus producing the wicked Antediluvians." "Antediluvians" are those who were around before the Great Flood.

Same, p 158: "No doubt these rudimentary organs have a spiritual significance: there ought spiritually to be a man in every woman and a woman in every man. And how horrid the ones who haven't got it are: I can't bear a 'man's man' or a 'woman's woman.'"

To I.O. Evans, January 10, p 159, referring to Evans's Christmas play: "You made the astrology of the Magi v. convincing and Simeon was quite a character."

To Carol Jenkins, January 22, p 160: "I found the name [Aslan] in the notes to Lane's Arabian Nights: it is the Turkish for Lion. I pronounced it Ass-lan myself. And of course I meant the Lion of Judah."

To Wayland Hilton Young, January 31, p 162, "When I've said that there is no allegory in it, and that there's nothing at all about the Second Coming in T.H.S., you may reply 'Well, that is what the books mean to an intelligent reader and what does it matter what you meant them to mean?' — a point of view I wholly agree with." T.H.S. = That Hideous Strength, the third of Lewis's "space trilogy' of novels.

Same: "is it possible for any man to write a fantastic story which another man can't read as an allegory? (The history of medieval criticism makes it clear that the answer is No.)"

To Mary Van Deusen, January 31, p 162: "In the last year my life also became much 'better' and, just like you, I often feel a little frightened."

Same, Lewis adds a cryptic postscript: "Hades, the land of the dead: not Gehenna, the land of the lost."

To the Editor of the Church Times, undated, p 164: "To a layman, it seems obvious that what unites the Evangelical and the Anglo-Catholic against the 'Liberal' or 'Modernist' is something very clear and momentous, namely, the fact that both are thoroughgoing supernaturalists, who believe in the Creation, the Fall, the Incarnation, the Resurrection, the Second Coming, and the Four Last Things. This unites them not only with one another, but with the Christian religion as understood ubique et ab omnibus." The Latin closing phrase is an abbreviation of St. Vincent of Lerins's formula, "Let us hold on to that which has been believed everywhere, always, by everyone."

To Genia Goelz, February 29, p 169: "people who have never undergone an adult conversion may say, it is a process not without its distresses. Indeed, they are the very sign that it is a true initiation."

To Genia Goelz, March 18, p 172: "The Bible itself gives us one short prayer which is suitable for all who are struggling with the beliefs and doctrines. It is: 'Lord I believe, help Thou my unbelief.' Would something of this sort be any good?: Almighty God, who art the father of lights and who hast promised by thy dear Son that all who do thy will shall know thy doctrine: give me grace so to live that by daily obedience I daily increase in faith and in the understanding of thy Holy Word, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen."

To Mary Van Deusen, April 1, p 177, referring to varied types of worship service: "The advantage of a fixed form of service is that we know what is coming. Ex tempore public prayer has this difficulty: we don't know whether we can mentally join in it until we've heard it — it might be phoney or heretical. We are therefore called upon to carry on a critical and a devotional activity at the same moment: two things hardly compativle. In a fixed form we ought to have 'gone through the motions' before in our private prayers: the rigid form really sets our devotions free."

Same, p 178: "I don't see how the ex tempore method can help becoming provincial and I think it has a great tendency to direct attention to the minister rather than to God."

Same: "Quakers . . . well I've been unlucky in mine. The ones I know are atrocious bigots whose religion seems to consist almost entirely in attacking other people's religions. But I'm sure there are good ones as well." With the possible exception of his early impressions of T.S. Eliot, I cannot think of another instance of Lewis being so intemperate.

To Edward A. Allen, April 3, p 179: "I wonder what constellation our Sun forms part of as seen from the planets (if any) of Sirius?"

An editor's note on p 179 reports that a woman named Nella Victoria Hooker had been, for some time, passing herself off as "Mrs. C.S. Lewis" and promising hotels in which she would check in that her husband would be coming to take care of her bill.

To Christian Hardie, April 6, p 180, referring to Graham Greene's The Power and the Glory: "As far as I am concerned there is no common measure between it and [Evelyn] Waugh [Brideshead Revisited]. In Waugh's book the supposedly good end of the old rake had simply to be taken on trust: but one lives through the whole experience of Green's hunted priest, filled from the first with interest, soon with compassion, and finally with love. Also Greene seems to know things. All that about the 'pious woman' in the cell (few laymen perhaps get letters from her so often as I) is excellent: also the bit about forgiveness of sins being easier to believe than forgiveness of the 'habit of piety.' Greene loves and understands his most repulsive characters — the lietenant and the half-caste — better than Waugh does his favorites."

Footnote 67 describes the priest in Greene's novel: "The only preist left in the state who has not either escaped or died, or conformed to the atheistic government, he returns to the village where Maria lives with their illegitimate daughter. Despite the fact that he believes himself to be condemned by God, he knows he can nevertheless bring salvation to others. In the end he achieves holiness and eventually martyrdom by virtue of, rather than in spite of, his sins."

To Don Giovanni Calabria, April 14, p 182: "While the wished-for unity of doctrine and order is missing, all the more eagerly let us try to keep the bond of charity: which, alas, your people in Spain and ours in Northern Ireland do not."

To Mary Van Deusen, May 5, p 186: "About the high—low quarrels in the Church, whatever the merits of the dispute are, the 'heat' is simply and solely Sin, and I think parsons ought to preach on it from the angle."

To Nell Berners-Price, May 9, p 187: "The actual scene in court was horrid. I never saw Justice at work before, and it is not a pretty sight. Any creature, even an animal, at bay, surrounded by its enemies, is a dreadful thing to see: one felt one was committing a sort of indecency by being present. What did impress me was the absence of any resentment or vindictiveness on the part of the witnesses: you two victims especially were, I thought, getting v. high marks." The "defendant" was Nella Victoria Hooker, the phony "Mrs. C. S. Lewis." Nell Berners-Price and her husband were owners of a hotel in Canterbury who had been swindled by Hooker.

To "Mrs. Lockley," May 13, p 188: "In Bishop Gore's 'Sermon on the mount' . . . I find the view that Christ forbade 'divorce in such a sense as allowed remarriage.' The question is whether He made an exception by allowing divorce in such a sense as allowed remarriage when the divorce was for adultery. In the Eastern Church remarriage of the innocent party is allowed: not in the Roman. The Anglican Bishops at Lambeth in 1888 denied remarriage to the guilty party, and added that 'there has always been a difference of opinion in the Church as to whether Our Lord meant to forbid remarriage of the innocent party in a divorce."

A footnote on the same page reports that the Anglican Church's position at that time was "That under no circumstances ought the guilty party, in the case of a divorce for fornication or adultery, to be regarded, during the lifetime of the innocent party, as a fit recipient of the blessing of the Church on marriage."

To Wayland Hilton Young, May 15, p 190, "I've no car and no wireless."

To Genia Goelz, May 15, p 191: "The real thing is the gift of the Holy Spirit which can't usually be — perhaps not ever — experienced as a sensation or emotion."

Same: "you'll be left to [do] lots of dogged pedalling later on." Lewis emphasizes the "work" the believer must add to faith.

To Vera Gebbert, May 23, p 194, referring to a writing project he'd been working on for fifteen years: "When it is actually done I expect my whole moral character will collapse. I shall go up like a balloon that has chucked out the last sandbag."

To Dom Bede Griffiths OSB, May 28, p 195: "It isn't chiefly men I am kept in touch with by my huge mail: it is women."

Same: "Yes, Pascal does directly contradict several passages in Scripture and must be wrong."

Same: "The stories you tell about two perverts belong to a terribly familiar pattern: the man of good will, saddled with an abnormal desire wh. he never chose, fighting hard and time after time defeated. But I question whether in such a life the successful operation of Grace is so tiny as we think. Is not this continued avoidance either of presumption or despair, this ever renewed struggle, itself a great triumph of Grace? Perhaps more so than (to human eyes) equable virtue of some who are psychologically sound.

"I am glad you think J. Austen a sound moralist. I agree. And not platitudinous, but subtle as well as firm."

To Marg-Riette Montgomery, June 10, p 198: "When I was a student, all my friends and I were ordinary modern Atheists."

Same: "I didn't think what he affirmed was true, but I did think all his denials were right."

Same, p 199: "We are free to take out of Anthroposophy anything that suits us, provided it does not contradict the Nicene Creed."

To Mary Van Deusen, June 10, p 199, describes photos as causing "extreme Sehnsucht."

Same, p 200: "I think psychiatry is like surgery: i.e. the thing is in itself essentially an infliction of wounds but may, in good hands, be necessary to avoid some greater evil. But it is more tricky than surgery because the personal philosophy and character of the operator come more into play."

Same, "Charles Williams's view [was] that every one can help to paddle every one else's canoe better than his own. We must bear one another's burdens because that is the only way the burdens can get borne: and 'He saved others, himself He cannot save' is a fundamental law."

To William Borst, an editor at Harcourt, Brace & World, New York, June 11, p 201: "I have picked up none of the technique of a professional author. Sorry."

—Webmaster Jon Kennedy

Procedural: These Jonals will appear sporadically, on Wednesdays. Please check the Home Page crawling marquee, click "Latest Post," or check the Jonals Index for updates. To have Jonals sent directly to your email or to reply to a Jonal, please write to jrk@nantyglo.com.

 

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I think psychiatry is like surgery: i.e. the thing is in itself essentially an infliction of wounds but may, in good hands, be necessary to avoid some greater evil. But it is more tricky than surgery because the personal philosophy and character of the operator come more into play.

— C. S. Lewis (1898 - 1963)


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