C.S. Lewis speaks to Fr Peter Dresser from beyond the grave…

In a combox to one of my posts on Fr Peter Dresser, Sharon posted this very relevant snippet from C.S. Lewis:

“It is your duty to fix the lines (of doctrine) clearly in your minds: and if you wish to go beyond them you must change your profession. This is your duty not specially as Christians or as priests but as honest men. There is a danger here of the clergy developing a special professional conscience which obscures the very plain moral issue. Men who have passed beyond these boundary lines in either direction are apt to protest that they have come by their unorthodox opinions honestly. In defense of those opinions they are prepared to suffer obloquy and to forfeit professional advancement. They thus come to feel like martyrs. But this simply misses the point which so gravely scandalizes the layman. We never doubted that the unorthodox opinions were honestly held: what we complain of is your continuing in your ministry after you have come to hold them. We always knew that a man who makes his living as a paid agent of the Conservative Party may honestly change his views and honestly become a Communist. What we deny is that he can honestly continue to be a Conservative agent and to receive money from one party while he supports the policy of the other.”

–from Christian Apologetics by C.S. Lewis, Easter 1945.
(Reprinted in God in the Dock pp. 89-90)

To think that they had the same problem already in 1945, when you think they would have had other things to keep them busy…

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0 Responses to C.S. Lewis speaks to Fr Peter Dresser from beyond the grave…

  1. Tony says:

    I dunno. CS Lewis is not Fr Dresser’s Bishop and the Bishop has spoken.

    The CS Lewis quote is just a way of sort of implying the Bishop didn’t go far enough or of rubbing Fr Dresser’s nose in it just a little more.

    I also think it devalues the church enormously to compare it to, even if only metaphorically, a political party. Give me the bridge any day! ;-)

  2. Schütz says:

    You are quite mistaken in my intention, Tony. This was by no means a comment on the action of Bishop Patrick, which, as I said below, was quite appropriate. He has a retraction from his priest, a promise that the priest won’t do it again, withdrawal of the “book”, and a clear statement that the doctrine in the book was heretical.

    No, what I meant by the Lewis quote was to highlight the fact that the issue of priests thinking they have some sort of mandate to “go beyond doctrine and dogma” into realms of their own theological fancy and THEN confuse the faithful by publishing these ideas while AT THE SAME TIME claiming that they are remaining faithful to the Faith is no new phenomenon. As is the point that they come out of it all “feeling like martyrs” who have been unfairly treated by the masses who have “misunderstood” them.

    That was my point.

  3. Tony says:

    You are quite mistaken in my intention, Tony.

    If there is any ‘intention questioning’ it’s more directed to Sharon.

    Beyond that, the church is not a political party and the salaries it gives out is not some benchmark of loyalty.

    The church is made of those ‘solid ones’ in the centre who ‘protect and defend’ and help sustain the institution through good times and bad. But there are also those, often thought of by the centre as ‘disloyal’ or ‘unfaithful’, etc. who constantly challenge the church. They may challenge the church because they regard it as too conservative or not conservative enough.

    But they too contribute to the church; they stop it from becoming atrophied. They are the groups from where prophets come, those who ‘comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable’. They are quite often really annoying people who, on the surface, appear hel-bent on destroying the church, but they are about renewing it. Most of the time they miss the mark and are just dead wrong, and just force us to challenge our own ideas. Occasionally they are just what the church needs.

    Jesus was one of these people (and, of course, a lot more besides). The ‘centre’ of his religious culture hated him, but he was about going below the surface of ritual and status.

    I can imagine a CS Lewis type being as condemning of Jesus as the religious leaders of his day. He would be accused of ‘confusing the faithful’ (I mean, fancy curing folks on the Sabbath!) and ‘living off’ a faith he is trying to destroy.

    But Jesus understood this very human dynamic and never complained of being a martyr.

    So just be careful when you dismiss the likes of Peter Dresser. In Jesus day, revelation didn’t come from the ‘centre’, it came from the ‘edge’.

  4. Anonymous says:

    This may not be the right section ,but the more I look over the web,it seems to me that the only Christian denominations that worry about the purity of the visible and the invisible church-to quote Francis Schaeffer- are the Catholics,Lutherans(Confessionals) and a small smattering of Reform ie Pressies and Uniting Church Confessionals
    The recent abortion law debate being one example.My own denomination-Baptist- was missing in action to a large extent. The resposne to Fr Dresser seems to mirror my comments

  5. Schütz says:

    Thanks, Anon, for your comment. Certainly Baptists are very welcome on SCE – I used to belong to a Baptist Motorcycle Club! I guess it goes without saying that the Baptists never had much of an ecclesiology.

  6. Schütz says:

    Thanks, Anon, for your comment. Certainly Baptists are very welcome on SCE – I used to belong to a Baptist Motorcycle Club! I guess it goes without saying that the Baptists never had much of an ecclesiology.

  7. Schütz says:

    Deary me, Tony, if I had a dollar for every time the “Jesus vs the Priests/Pharisees” was hauled out as justification for us to do likewise by attacking the Church of today, I would be a rich man.

    1) Jesus does not equal me. Or you. Or Fr Dresser. He was the Son of God and excercised the authority of the Son in the Father’s vineyard. You and I and Fr Dresser do not have that authority.

    2) The various Judaisms of the First Century AD do not equate to the Church of today. We cannot simply put both of them under the heading “religious establishment”. The Church is more than a human establishment.

    That being said, I do agree with those who have said before on this blog (I think Peregrinus said it most recently) that when the institutional Church acts unjustly it must not go unchallenged.

    But I think that a careful distinction can be made, and it can be made by looking at those faithful rebels of the past.

    I will choose just one example, who is often cited in this connection here in Australia, that of Blessed Mary of the Cross, aka Mary McKillop. Yes, she was a rebel, but

    a) she continued to recognise the authority of her bishop even while refusing his unjust demands to cease treating rich and poor alike in her schools.

    b) she never, never ever, NEVER questioned the doctrines and dogmas of the Church. She was opposed to injustice in the Church, not to the Church’s teaching authority.

    And there you have it. Oppose the Church when she is unjust by all means, all the while never stop “thinking with the Church”.

    Priests are not only paid to be loyal to the faith, they have VOWED loyalty to the faith. When a priest abandons the faith, he is therefore commiting a dereliction of duty of the most heinous variety.

  8. Sharon says:

    I think you are trying to introduce a red herring into the conversation Tony. The excerpt from God in the Dock obviously had nothing to do with bishops or with political parties (Lewis was using an analogy) but with priests who no longer believe what the Church teaches and still take all the benefits of being a priest in the Church while they are scandalising the ‘little ones.’

    If you wish you could substitute Microsoft and Apple for the words which offend you; the meaning is still the same.

    As for my intention, it is the same as yours; to express my opinion on a current situation.

  9. Tony says:

    ‘Deary me’ David?

    1) Your argument is based on something I didn’t say; I did not say ‘Jesus equals me’. Authority? If every prophetic voice waited for ‘permission’ there would be no such thing as a prophetic voice!

    I don’t claim to be equal to Jesus, but I claim to learn from and aspire to his example. His life is a testamony to what happens time and time again in human institutions and what is often needed to renew them.

    So we must always be careful of condemning those who push us out of our comfort zone. The church, like other human institutions, doesn’t renew itself from the top down. If we’re lucky the top ‘listens’ to the bottom, but most often is more intent on protecting its own position. The Catholic Church, as history shows, is not immune from this and it’s often particularly hard for those closest to it to see it.

    2) It’s not necessary for institutions to ‘equate’ with each other for the same pattern to repeat itself. And, again, while the ‘the Church is more than a human establishment’ it is not immune from human institutional flaws.

    ‘Faithful rebels’ is the wisdom of hindsight, most rebels are viewed by their contemporaries in ‘the centre’ as anything but. Mary MacKillop was subject to that kind of treatment by the ‘good people’ of Adelaide and supported, ironically, by a prominent local Jewish family. The people on the edge too, those she served, had no time for the games of those in high places.

    Priests highest loyalty is to God, period. They have an obligation, by virtue of their own vow to treat the authority of the church with utmost respect, but the church is not an army. It is made of of individuals coming together freely. It grows from the tensions within. It grows from periods of deep, challenging renewal. We all have the authority, perhaps obligation, to be part of that not as passive recipients from on high, but active particpants who’s authority comes from a founder who insisted that the ‘first shall be last’.

  10. Joshua says:

    Pish tosh, the true reforms of the Church – the Gregorian Reform, the Counter-Reformation – did exactly and precisely emanate from the top down; so did Vatican II, for good and ill!

    To be prophetic is not to delude oneself and be a real pest, it is to be inspired by the Holy Spirit to do what one would really rather not do, at great personal cost.

    It is wicked and wrong to set up a false dichotomy between loyalty to God and to His Church. Of course, in the Church there is much injustice, and this is hateful to God, but it is not disloyalty to the Church to oppose such injustice, it is true loyalty to her, calling her to slough off the dross of sin and shine forth as what she always remains in essence: the Spotless Bride of Christ.

    To denounce abuses is excellent; to question doctrine and lead men astray is the work of Satan.

    What New Age nonsense and psychobabble to talk unmeaningly about deep challenging renewal and other rubbish nun-talk! Be a man!

    The Church is indeed, contrary to you, an army: it is the army of Christ marching against all evil, freely sacrificing every last drop of blood so as to bear witness to Him against an unbelieving world, that that world may convert and be saved.

    What kind of ecclesiology is it to say it is but a free coming together of individuals? No ecclesiology at all!

    We are not secularists, thank God, so we shouldn’t talk as if the great idol of personal autonomy were sacrosanct.

    What I find worst of all is the constant appeal to some hippie leftist view of “Jesus the romantic radical, traipsing around Palestine with his mates”, in effect almost denying His Divine Nature and forgetting that now He is risen, glorified, ascended, so “according to the flesh we now know Him no more” (II Cor. v, 16) but rather acknowledge Him as our Lord Christ and God, reigning in perpetual sesssion with God the Father and the Holy Ghost, the Incarnate Second Person of the Trinity, the Pantocrator, the King of heaven and earth, our dread Lawgiver and mighty Judge.

    This is our Lord, in Whose unconquerable service we are, all unworthy, enrolled.

  11. Tony says:


    Jesus founded no army. There were those around who might have wished he did. But he didn’t.

    What he founded turned rank upside down — that’s no army. What he founded turned the other cheek — that’s no army. What he founded was grounded in … this may not be a ‘manly’ enough word for you … love — that’s no army. What he founded valued humility — that’s no army. What he founded loved it’s enemies — that’s no army. So have your army Josh, but it’s not what Christ founded.

  12. Joshua says:

    Your comments are foolish.

    I assume you have enough wit to understand the metaphor – does not the Te Deum sing of the “white-robed army of martyrs”?

    Of course turn the other cheek, and love thine enemy – isn’t that what I said? That we should be willing to lay down our lives for the Truth, as witnesses to Him who so loved us, that the world may believe.

    You must recognize that we are in combat, as St Paul avers, not with flesh and blood, but with the malignant forces of darkness…

    You must not deny what Christ founded! His army fights for truth, justice and right beneath the standard of the Cross – haven’t you ever done the famous meditation on the Two Standards in the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius? He is the Lord of hosts.

    St Paul tells us all this in Ephesians 6:10-18.

    Take up the armour of God… girded with truth… with breastplate of justice… feet shod with the Gospel… the shield of faith… the helmet of salvation… the sword of the spirit, that is, the Word of God…

    To deny all this is to cherish a poor mediocre bourgeois feelgood cult, not the total service Our Lord demands of us.

    In case you haven’t noticed, Christians are not much liked, and must be ready to be witnesses to Christ unto death.

  13. Christine says:

    Hmm. Well did old Simeon predict that the Child would be a sign of contradiction. And He has always been.

    The love of Jesus is not soft and sentimental. It is often “hard” and requires conversion on the part of those to whom it is directed.

    As Joshua points out we certainly are in spiritual combat. There’s plenty of “military” language in both the OT and the NT to support the image of the Church at spiritual war.

    I don’t believe Christ came as a “testimony” to human institutions and how to renew them. Lord, that sounds so 60’s and 70’s.

    Jesus is Lord and King. He came as the Lamb, the Messiah, the One who saves us from our sins and leads us to the heavenly Zion.

    Everything else in this world is passing away.

  14. matthias says:

    Good points christine and Joshua you point about being faithful unto death,is bourne out in the latest report by AID TO THE CHURCH IN NEED. You can download it from the web site http://www.aidtochurch.org/ ,or if you want hard copy i have four available but i will not give out my contact details just yet

  15. Tony says:

    The notion of speaking about ‘love’ as ‘soft’ is so 40s and 50s!

    Anyhow, Joshua is going to bust a boiler if I keep going, so I’ll leave it at that for better or worse.

  16. Joshua Martin says:

    A wise man! ;-)

    While I think the fifties overrated (look at what came next), the forties were great: when the Allies defeated Nazism and all its devilish works. Now that’s a sterling example of Christian combat against evil. (Prescinding, of course, from any Allied acts that may be adjudged to have overstepped the bounds of just war.)

  17. Louise says:

    The notion of speaking about ‘love’ as ‘soft’ is so 40s and 50s!

    Well, I’m late to this particular party but the problem with love is that different people mean different things by it.

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