C.S. Lewis and Rome’s “new doctrines”

Pastor Mark has a post on his blog entitled C S Lewis To A Prospective Roman Convert: Rome As Much A Variation From Tradition As Any Protestant Sect.

In this post, he cites Lewis’ comments “to the effect that he could never become a Roman Catholic because it meant agreeing in principle to accept any new doctrine Rome might define.” I had a chuckle on that one, because in my experience “new doctrines” are far more likely to arise in Protestant Churches than in the Catholic Church. One might cite the “dogma” in many evangelical traditions of “the rapture” – a very new doctrine. Or of “baptism in the Holy Spirit”, another new dogma. Now, of course, Lutherans do not subscribe to either “new doctrine”, but I do find it ironic that a key turning point in my “year of grace” was the occasion when the Synod of the Lutheran Church of Australia put the “ordination of women” to the vote. At the time, it was only narrowly defeated (and a majority of 55% actually voted for it). The LCA to this day does not ordain women, but many Lutheran Churches do, and it is quite conceivable that the LCA one day will, if the numbers get up for it. This is indeed a new doctrine, and anyone “converting to Lutheranism” in Australia must embrace, as Pastor Mark puts it, “not just acceptance of [the LCA’s] dogmatic past but also its future“. Can I point to any “new doctrines” that the LCA does teach? Yes, at least one: the doctrine that artificial contraception is licet. This is another “new doctrine” among protestant Christians, stemming from the 1930 Lambeth Conference. I will leave that for another time.

But for the moment, I would like to investigate more deeply Lewis’s analogy of Christian doctrine to the teaching of Platonism (see Pastor Mark’s post for the full quotation from Lewis).

No Christian should fall for Lewis’s argument here. It seems to me that Lewis was never at his best when he was trying to talk himself out of the “call to communion” with the Bishop of Rome. The main difficulty all Christians should have with Lewis’s argument is that it reduces Christianity to a philosophical school, and Christ to a teacher of a “philosophy”. Yet as Lewis himself pointed out in his argument against the idea of “Jesus as a great teacher”, Jesus was either “mad, bad or God”, for he claimed nothing less than to be the Son of God incarnate. As such, he is a living presence in the Church, and not a past “teacher” of a “philosophy” or “ethic”. So it seems that in using this analogy, Lewis is being inconsistent with his own belief.

But my second reason for rejecting Lewis’s analogy at this point is the great text of Matthew 28, the “Great Commission”.

“All authority in heaven and on earth is given to me”, Jesus said, and then he commissioned his apostles “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptising them and teaching them all I have commanded you.” This text makes mincemeat of Lewis’s prevarications. Plato never said gave any such commission to his students. Nor did Plato tell his students that his Spirit would “lead them into all truth”. Nor did Plato say to one of his students “You are Peter and upon this Rock I will build my Church”.

The fact is, that unlike Plato, Jesus left us a Church, not a text. So when Lewis says (of his fictional Athenian Platonic Society) “if I found that their teaching was in many ways curiously unlike his [ie. Plato’s] actual text”, we need to remind ourselves that Jesus did not write a text: he authorised his apostles. They indeed wrote a text, but it did not stop there. They left successors to exercise their authority – the very authority that Jesus said was given to him and which he gave to his apostles when he sent them “to all nations”. They became the living sacramental representatives of the living Christ himself in the community which he established. And thus, the Catholic Church is not simply a society preserving the ancient text of some great, but long dead and absent teacher. It is the body of Christ, taught by Christ’s own apostles who exercise his headship among us.

About Schütz

I am a PhD candidate & sessional academic at Australian Catholic University in Melbourne, Australia. After almost 10 years in ministry as a Lutheran pastor, I was received into the Catholic Church in 2003. I worked for the Archdiocese of Melbourne for 18 years in Ecumenism and Interfaith Relations. I have been editor of Gesher for the Council of Christians & Jews and am guest editor of the historical journal “Footprints”. I have a passion for pilgrimage and pioneered the MacKillop Woods Way.
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6 Responses to C.S. Lewis and Rome’s “new doctrines”

  1. matthias says:

    my reading of the Catechism and in my RCIA sessions with Fr GT he emphasised that there is no new revelations ,and that to do so is heresy . For Jesus Christ was the Final revelation,the Incarnation,the Atonement and the Resurrection.We await His Return which He said “only the Father knows the time and the hour” so on these points I think Lewis is wrong and then so are all of those who give us new revelations eg The Rapture ,Toronto Blessings and the Prosperity Gospel.
    Good time to announce here that i am being received into the Catholic Church at the end of this coming week . I would value your prayers and I know and feel that this is the correct step.

  2. matthias says:

    oh and talking about “prospective Roman converts” can anyone tell me what is happening with the Anglican Ordiniariate here in Oz? I know that it has occurred in Uk with the Ordinariate of our Lady of Walsingham but has archBishop Hepworth’s comments derailed it??

  3. PM says:

    ‘Mere Christianity’ is a marvellous book which has been a source of great good to many, but of course it is incomplete. For the full picture I’d recommend ‘Mere Catholicism’ by Ian Ker (whom many readers will know as a Newman scholar) – an excellent book to give to anyone thinking of becoming a Catholic.

  4. Joshua says:

    Congratulations, Matthias! Unfortunately I won’t be able to attend, but will be there in spirit – for are we not all one in Christ?

  5. Gareth says:

    It is slightly ironic also that since Lewis (whos own theological thinking could occasionally get off track by the way) made these remarks in the 1950s/1960s, the Church of England would be barely recognisable since this time and has ‘introduced’ since this time stupid theological and liturgical inventions that I am sure if C.S. Lewis was around to today would come to a very different conclusion.

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