Fifty years ago today, two men of historical stature died. The first was the President of the United States, John F. Kennedy. He was shot in his motorcade in the city of Dallas, Texas. The tragic event shocked the country and the world. The other gentleman was a professor of Literature and Philosophy at Oxford University in Oxford, England, by the name of Clives Staples Lewis. He was affectionately known as “Jack” to his family and friends, but we know him as C.S. Lewis.
Although one was the President of the United States, the more obscure individual has impacted the world fifty times more than Kennedy ever did. He may not be in every history book, but his prolific writings have impacted and inspired generations since his death at the age of 65.
Countless people have converted to Christianity because of his greatest work, Mere Christianity. He writes the text not as theologian or philosopher, but from a literary point of view. Drawing upon his experience as one that lost his faith as he entered university, Lewis makes a near flawless case for the importance of Christianity and the person of Jesus Christ. One of the best parts of the text is when he writes that Jesus is a raging lunatic or he is the Son of God –
“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”
My first real encounter with the great C.S. Lewis took place in the Saint Ignatius Institute at the University of San Francisco. In 1994, my first fall semester, I read his book Miracles in the course, Revelation and Christology. I remember how difficult the book was to read, as did many of my classmates, but also remember the enjoyment of it as well. The difficulty of this book caused a lot of stress for us in that class. Our lack of understanding forced Reverend Joseph Fessio, S.J. to explain Chapter 4 to us in great detail. He then told us to purchase some good German beer, go to Golden Gate Park, and read our C.S. Lewis.
While taking this course, I remember taking a literature course where we read Lewis’ Space Trilogy – Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength. Again, these books grabbed my attention even more so than Miracles. I remember not being able to put them down and found myself reading them during lunch and while I was eating dinner in the student commons.
Like The Chronicles of Narnia, Lewis’ seven book children’s classic, the space trilogy is much more than just a story about space. It’s a story steeped in philosophy, theology, and Christian humanism. Towards the end of Perelandra, Ransom says, “In our world those who know Maleldil at all believe that His coming down to us and being a man is the central happening of all that happens.” Sound familiar to you?
In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Aslan, the great lion and Christ figure, sacrifices himself up to the White Witch and all her evil cohorts to save Edmund, Peter, Susan, and Lucy. In the end, after being slaughtered on the Stone Table, the Deep Magic brings him back to life and raises him from the dead.
I could continue quoting every text of his in my personal library, but the best thing you could do is go out and purchase one of his many books and start discovering him for yourself. There are not enough words on how much his writings have affected my own life and the work I do as a Catholic Lay evangelist.
The influence that C.S. Lewis will continue to have in the decades ahead is immeasurable, but his impact on the early 21st century should continue to reverberate as more and more people continue to read, study, and share his books. So today on the 50th anniversary of his death, we celebrate his life, his accomplishments, and the man we know affectionately as Clive Staples Lewis.
Thanks Tom! I didn’t know they died the same day. Very interesting. I have a couple of his books. One is a compilation of many of them. I find Half Price Books a great place to shop for many of the “old” texts of the great authors.
Dr. Peter Kreeft wrote a great book imagining the meeting of Aldous Huxley, CS Lewis, and JFK (all died on the same day) in the afterlife. Perfect for reading today.
Name of the book?
Between Heaven and Hell: A Dialog Somewhere Beyond Death with John F. Kennedy, C. S. Lewis & Aldous Huxley, by Peter Kreeft
Thanks! Add that to the 1000 books I need to read. 🙂
C. S. Lewis was one of the greatest authors! I di not know he died on the same day as JFK. Thank you.
I would also highly recommend his book The ScrewTape Letters which gives excellent examples of how the devil works to devour souls. Especially the speech Screwtape gives at the dinner where he is being honored. So many of the plans are coming true.
Thank you, Martha!
Yes, Screwtape Letters is very good. You should pick up Dr. Peter Kreeft’s, The Snakebite Letters. Written in the same motif as Screwtape, but directed towards the modern world.