Why I’m Becoming Catholic – C.S. Lewis & the Catholic Church

During the Ignatian Silent Retreat I attended in January 2007, I found a book called C.S. Lewis and the Catholic Church, by Joseph Pearce. An excellent book, it takes a look at the similarities between Lewis’ theology and Roman Catholic theology. Pearce also examines possible reasons why Lewis never became a Catholic, as J.R.R. Tolkien (a devout Catholic) hoped he would.  The two primary reasons he points out are leftover unconscious prejudice from his childhood in Belfast – where he had “been (implicitly) warned never to trust a Papist” (Surprised by Joy) – and actual theological differences, for example about the importance of Mary.

Now, I had noticed that Lewis used expressions that we never used in the Presbyterian Church (USA), but I hadn’t really thought of them as Catholic before. For example, in the essay “The Weight of Glory,” Lewis says,

“Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbour is the holiest object presented to your senses.”

We Presbyterians, for whom the Lord’s Supper is a memorial rather than the mystical Real Presence, don’t use the phrase “Blessed Sacrament,” and I would never have considered pieces of food as holier than my fellow human being.

Lewis also referred to the Mother of God as the “Blessed Virgin,” a title which you will not hear at many Protestant churches. The most glorious title I’d ever heard for her growing up was “the Virgin Mary,” which was more a term of distinction (“Which Mary?” “The Virgin Mary”) than a term of honor.

I also remember a letter that Lewis wrote to “Inkling-by-association” (i.e. not an official Inkling, but a like-minded friend) Dorothy Sayers on the subject of the ordination of women, in which he argued against female ordination because it

wd. cut us off so sharply from all the rest of Christendom, and…wd. be the very triumph of what they call ‘practical’ and ‘enlightened’ principles over the far deeper need that the Priest at the Altar must represent the Bridegroom to whom we are all, in a sense, feminine.

Sayers replied

If I were cornered, and asked point-blank whether Christ Himself is the representative of male humanity or all humanity, I should be obliged to answer ‘of all humanity’

but that

It would be a pity to fly in the face of all the Apostolic Church, especially just now when we are at last seeing some prospect of understanding with the Eastern Church – and so on…

You can find the full part of Lewis’ side of the conversation, and more of Sayers’ side, in the second volume of The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, edited by Walter Hooper.

The reasoning both Lewis and Sayers used – that a church should take into account “the rest of Christendom,” throughout time and space, when making decisions about its ecclesiology – was unfamiliar to me. As a Protestant, I had not been raised to temper my interpretation of Scripture according to the great body of Church teaching over the past 2,000 years, or to feel hesitant to separate myself from other denominations when they were united in a particular (opposing) view. (Besides, in the world in which I grew up, I thought Protestantism was the prevailing view.) My church was not arrogant enough to teach that one’s own interpretation of Scripture, if one felt it to be Spirit-filled, was always right. However, the Tradition of the Church was just not emphasized, much less explicitly offered as a corrective to too much solitary Bible reading and interpretation. It may have been so among the older, wiser, or more educated in my denomination, but as a young person growing up in Protestantism I felt that “the Tradition of the Church” was seen as a set of out-dated beliefs and practices that we were slowly starting to outgrow and “make relevant to today’s world.” (Needless to say, as a child raised on King Arthur and C.S. Lewis at home, I didn’t necessarily see Tradition as a bad thing.)

The sense of the sacramental; the use of seemingly archaic terms of reverence and devotion; the willingness to humble oneself before the Authority of Christ’s Church – all these were new experiences that I found in Lewis, and later came to find in the Catholic Church. They awakened me to the old desire for Camelot, the sehnsucht of my childhood – similar to the longings for “the North” that Lewis describes in Surprised by Joy. And as in Arthur’s court long ago the knights briefly gazed upon what they most desired, turning towards Rome I glimpsed the Grail.

Next up: Charles Williams, Taliessin, and the Grail.

Read part 1 and part 2 of this series on my journey to the Catholic Church.

14 thoughts on “Why I’m Becoming Catholic – C.S. Lewis & the Catholic Church

  1. I must say of all faiths – I’ve found myself recently converted into Catholicism. Since doing so, I’ve found more peace in my life, & feel this particular branch of christianity has much sincere values, we could all learn from.

  2. I think Catholicism – gets a fair amount of negativity. Only 20 percent of people are actually genuine Catholics. This being it is a most rigid form of Christianity. Firstly, I visited a Catholic Church in my local area – and I must say It was lovely. The most beautiful looking church in the county. Archetirually very interesting. I find the history of old buildings most interesting, like many people.
    The Roman Catholic Church style, layout of the building is very different to other churches – for example like Church of England. The Catholic Church I visited was very ornate – gold. With the mother Mary In the alcove. I must say I reccomend anyone to visit a Catholic Church because some people’s views are most misconstrued.

    i found visiting a Catholic Church a very
    interesting experience. I feel It is the
    most emotional Church I’ve been in. Most atmospheric. Catholic Churches – quiet places to go for quiet thought times, for trials & tribulations.

    firstly, the Catholics view to minority views – gays to being sinful I disagree with. A person from a minority group, gay has to repent before they are accepted into the church should they choose to convert to the faith.

  3. Just a quick counterview to Sueliz1. Pride – its more in the name than sees the eye. If the Catholic church turns its back on other religions and writes them off for dead, How can you save them? How can they be converted? I did not see the Holy Father pray to Buddha or anyone else but God. We really don’t know what he said but he once consecrated the world to Immaculate Heart of Mary. That includes everybody. We have not joined those religions! I don’t think you understand the Catholic religion. The person can be a nonbeliver but you can save him if you believe for him, why it says pray for your enemies. C.S. Lewis did not convert to Christianity because Tolkien was always showing him to be less than what he was, rather quite the opposite. To be unaccepting of others is to be a bigot not a Catholic and who wants to be save by someone who always belittles another.

    Holy Father also went to the Jewish “Wall” but he did not convert to Judaism rather he blessed it. And how do we know he didn’t say “God I have tried but I am old and weak now so I leave this in your hands.”

    Basically, if we show that we reject someone on their beliefs now, we show that they will always be rejected even if they convert. We will always show prejudice of I was here first and that is pride!

  4. I made the right decision to stay in the Catholic church. I pray you make a good journey home. Be humble and obedient to The Church our Lord gave us. Only God will judge us in the end. Don’t let you heart be troubled. Every human being on earth is a cration of God and deserves to be saved while still alive, even If they never knew who Jesus was. It’s our job to teach them and that’s why you and I need to reach out to them and teach them with kindness and love. JPP 2 simply did his job.

  5. Oops, I see that you didn’t get the last post I posted. What I wanted to say is that as you are entering Catholicism, I am leaving it. I am well versed in Catholic theology and apologetics. I started to see how the Vatican has been interacting with governments and religion. In 1986, PJP 2 had an interfaith service which included, spiritists, witch doctors, buddists, hindus and more. He allowed Buddah to be worshipped on the altar and said their prayers were creating a spiritual energy for world peace. This year, Pope Benedict 16 has urged govt.’s to sign the Copenhagen treaty. This would end in world govt (Al Gore said). PB16’s recent encyclical “Charity in Truth” is all about a one world economic system and needing a United Nations with “teeth.” The UN is luciferian to the core and the Church backs them on many issues. There is a false peace and false eccuminism coming..and it will be for the antichrist. You can check out my blog for information : http://www.sueliz1.wordpress.com
    I pray you make the right decision. God bless you and your search.

  6. I just want you to know that I am not a catholic basher..in fact all of my family and many of my friends are devout Catholics. My decision to leave was extremely painful, especially after attending Franciscan University. But there are too many contradictions of Catholic theology and scripture that I just can’t look past. I wish you every blessing. Please watch this clip. God Bless..

  7. Ray,

    How did I know that you’d follow up on that lead in SpareOom? Thanks for coming.

    I’m actually moving to Oxford in September to read Theology at the University, and will be a Junior Scholar-in-Residence at the Kilns, so I’ll be surrounded by a strong Christian community. I’ve joined the Oxford CSL Society, and have made contact with the Newman Society. I’ve been meeting one-on-one with a priest here in Maryland for the past few months, and have learned that the Oxford Oratory Church offers one-on-one catechesis with a priest as well. I’m also hoping to attend daily Mass, either at the Oratory or at Blackfriars Hall. Does this sound like a good plan?

    I’m currently reading a chapter a day in the Imitation of Christ, and have put your suggestions on my reading list.

    I was actually hoping you’d stop by. I’ve always been impressed by your strong defense of the Faith on SpareOom, and how you won’t back down in an argument, but still maintain the respectful spirit of disputation and Christian charity.

  8. Pleasure to read your account Cole … I saw your declaration on SpareOom and the link to your blog. Congratulations. It might be a little early to welcome you to Mother Church, and I would like to say that not all RCIA programs are equal … read the Fathers of the Church and such excellent spiritual direction as that written by Francis de Sales, and Fr. de Caussade in “Abandonment to Divine Providence.”


  9. Father,

    Before I attended Loyola College in Maryland, I had only been to a few Masses, all during the month I was an exchange student in France. I was not familiar with any other Catholic practices, like the Rosary or the Divine Office. (I have started praying a few hours of the latter, and have found it immensely helpful.) I still feel like a child when I attend Mass. Even though I was one of the most theologically-minded and knowledgeable students at my church’s Sunday School growing up, I feel like I’ve been thrust back into kindergarten. It’s definitely a humbling experience.:-)

  10. Fantastic account Cole, written in the best tradition of spiritual conversion accounts. You write so well and clearly about the interior drama, which of course is at the heart of a spiritual conversion. I’m curious, up to this point had you had much practical experience with Catholicism… attendance at Mass, exposure to the rosary or other Catholic practices? Anyway, I eagerly await the next installment!

  11. Victoria,

    Thank you very much for your comment. I would like to start a Catholic theatre company when I’m done with school, which wouldn’t have an evangelical mission per se, but would of course witness to the Truth of which the Church speaks. We are all of course admonished by St. Peter to be ready to answer those who question us about our faith; I admit, though, that I still need a lot of work in the apologetics department, especially when compared to the model C.S. Lewis provides.

    I agree with you that converts tend to be fiery – witness Thomas Merton in The Seven Storey Mountain. I do need to be careful, though, in my newfound love of Rome not to be too hard on the church in which I was raised, which contains many people full of Christ’s love and with passion for serving Him.

    Thank you for your list of people I need to read! And thank you again for your words. It’s helpful to be encouraged by one farther along in the journey.

  12. Wow…I commend you Cole. I returned to the Roman Catholic Church four years ago, and it has been an amazing, joyous ride. I LOVE the Eucharist and our Blessed Mother.

    Just by reading your posts, I am blown away by your insightfulness on the Catholic faith. Have you thought of becoming a Catholic evangelist? You have a way or a gift of simplying/explaining catholicism.

    I have noticed that many converts to the Roman Catholic Church are on FIRE for the faith. A few of these converts are Scott and Kimberly Hahn; Stephen Ray, Jeff Cavins, Deacon Alex Jones, Father Donald Calloway, and Char Vance. I see you also on this list.

    God Bless you on your journey.


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