Friday, June 12, 2009

cs lewis on denomination

In my last post I touched on the difficulty of reconciling the differences between Catholicism and Protestantism, and within Protestanism the varied denominations and emphases.

I actually saw this extended quote from CS Lewis on a blog this week that is pretty awesome and rather pertinent . It's from his essay "On the Reading of Old Books" (that is, by the way, a fantastic essay title).

'I myself was first led into reading the Christian classics, almost accidentally, as a result of my English studies. Some, such as Hooker, Herbert, Traherne, Taylor, and Bunyan, I read because they are themselves great English writers; others, such as Boethius, St Augustine, Thomas Aquinas and Dante, because they were influences. George MacDonald I had found for myself at the age of sixteen and never wavered in my allegiance, though I tried for a long time to ignore his Christianity.
'They are, you will note, a mixed bag, representatives of many Churches, climates and ages. And that brings me to yet another reason for reading them. The divisions of Christendom are undeniable and are by some of these writers most fiercely expressed. But if any man is tempted to think – as one might be tempted who read only contemporaries – that 'Christianity' is a word of so many meanings that it means nothing at all, he can learn beyond all doubt, by stepping out of his own century, that this is not so.
'Measured against the ages, 'mere Christianity' turns out to be no insipid interdenominational transparency, but something positive and self-consistent, and inexhaustible. I know it, indeed, to my cost. In the days when I still hated Christianity, I learned to recognise, like some all too familiar smell, that almost unvarying something which met me, now in Puritan Bunyan, now in Anglican Hooker, now in Thomist Dante. It was there (honeyed and floral) in Fran├žois de Sales; it was there (grave and homely) in Spenser and Walton; it was there (grim but manful) in Pascal and Johnson; there again, with a mild, frightening, Paradisial flavour, in Vaughan and Boehme and Traherne.
'In the urban sobriety of the eighteenth century one was not safe – Law and Butler were two lions in the path. The supposed 'Paganism' of the Elizabethans could not keep it out; it lay in wait where a man might have supposed himself safest, in the very centre of The Faerie Queen and the Arcadia. It was, of course, varied; and yet – after all – so unmistakably the same; recognisable, not to be evaded, the odour which is death to us until we allow it to become life: 'an air that kills / From yon far country blows'.
'We are all rightly distressed, and ashamed, also, at the divisions of Christendom. But those who have always lived within the Christian fold may be too easily dispirited by them. They are bad, but such people do not know what it looks like from without. Seen from there, what is left intact despite all the divisions, still appears (as it truly is) an immensely formidable unity. I know, for I saw it; and well our enemies know it. That unity any of us can find by going out of his own age. It is not enough, but it is more than you had thought till then.
'Once you are well soaked in it, if you then venture to speak, you will have an amusing experience. You will be thought a Papist when you are actually reproducing Bunyan, a Pantheist when you are quoting Aquinas, and so forth. For you have now got on to the great level viaduct which crosses the ages and which looks so high from the valleys, so low from the mountains, so narrow compared with the swamps, and so broad compared with the sheep-tracks.

2 comments:

Rae said...

My issue with this is that I don't see how it really addresses whether there is a problem with division in Christianity. It is wonderful that God is God despite our "Christian" in-fighting, but it is also the case that one can "smell" the Holy Spirit in something written by a Pantheist who sounds like Thomas Aquinas or in a Buddhist who sounds like Augustine and all are writing God's truth. So, if this argument can just as easily explain why we shouldn't worry about a multiplicity of religions, is it really worth even narrowing it down to the discussion of Christian denominations?

I hope that this does not sound too combative because I am very interested in your thoughts.

HIS Daughter said...

Hi,
I saw where you signed up to follow my blog! So you are wrestling too?
I am going to close the blog up probably by the end of the week and I wanted to know if you would like to continue following my journey and how I got this far?

I have already received an anonymous hate mail calling me the "whore of Babylon" and wishing death on me and my family...pretty sick...and my brother in law is a staunch Calvinist and he is reading every word I write and with his intellect (he's an M.D., he's trying to twist me up in e-mail.
So unless I get him out of the shadows of reading the blog and not commenting there...then he's going to barred :-)

If you want to still follow..I could use the company! I have never been so unpopular in my whole life!

Peace be with You,
Teri