Thursday, May 29, 2008

C.S. Lewis on the Reformation

The process whereby ‘faith and works’ become a stock gag for the commercial theatre is characteristic of that whole tragic farce which we call this history of the Reformation. The theological questions really at issue have no significance except on a certain level, a high level, of the spiritual life; they could have been fruitfully debated only between mature and saintly disputants in close privacy and at boundless leisure. Under those conditions formulae might possibly have been found which did justice to the Protestant–I had almost said the Pauline–assertions without compromising other elements of the Christian faith. In fact, however, these questions were raised at a moment when they immediately became embittered and entangled with a whole complex of matters theologically irrelevant, and therefore attracted the fatal attention both of government and the mob. When once this had happened, Europe’s chance to come through unscathed was lost. It was as if men were set to conduct a metaphysical argument at a fair, in competition or (worse still) forced collaboration with the cheapjacks or the round-abouts, under the eyes of an armed and vigilant police forced who frequently changed sides. Each party increasingly misunderstood the other and triumphed in refuting positions which their opponents did not hold: Protestants misrepresenting Romans as Pelagians or Romans misrepresenting Protestants as Antinomians [emphasis mine].

- C.S. Lewis, English Literature in the Sixteenth Century (Excluding Drama), Introduction, p37


CraigS said...

Quite unfair. Romans are only semi-pelagian. Although see here

David Castor said...

I should point out that I was looking for a quote by Lewis suggesting that Catholics don't believe in salvation by works in the same sense that Protestants believe they do and that Protestants don't believe in salvation by faith in the same sense that Catholics believe they do. For some reason I thought he said something to this effect in "Mere Christianity", although it could just be a figment of my imagination.

Actually, I do appreciate that contemporary conservative evangelicals tend to use the term "semi-Pelagian" to refer to Catholics. That said, I honestly don't know if that distinction existed around the time of the Reformation, or whether this specific charge was invoked at a later period in time.

As a serious question though, what precisely do you mean by the term "Semi-Pelagian"?

David Castor said...

P.S - Thanks for the article. I shall endeavour to read it when I get a chance.

Rachel said...

I see I'm five years late to the conversation, but if you're still looking for the Lewis quote, it came from an address he gave to Catholics. Quite a rare thing for Lewis to tackle denominational differences! Anyway, he said, "I'm not myself convinced that any good Roman ever did hold the doctrine of Works in that form of which Protestants accused him, or that any good Protestant ever did hold the doctrine of Faith in that form of which Romans accused him."

Lewis anticipated by about fifty years the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, in which the Lutherans and Catholics together basically concluded that they had never had a real disagreement so much as a misunderstanding!