Monday, July 30, 2012

Who is C.S. Lewis?

C. S. Lewis, or Jack Lewis, as he preferred to be called, was born in Belfast, Ireland (now Northern Ireland) on November 29, 1898. He was the second son of Albert Lewis, a lawyer, and Flora Hamilton Lewis. His older brother, Warren Hamilton Lewis, who was known as Warnie, had been born three years earlier in 1895.

Early Days
Lewis's early childhood was relatively happy and carefree. In those days Northern Ireland was not yet plagued by bitter civil strife, and the Lewises were comfortably off. The family home, called Little Lea, was a large, gabled house with dark, narrow passages and an overgrown garden, which Warnie and Jack played in and explored together. There was also a library that was crammed with books—two of Jack's favorites were Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson and The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett.

A Painful Loss
This somewhat idyllic boyhood came to an end for Lewis when his mother became ill and died of cancer in 1908. Barely a month after her death the two boys were sent away from home to go to boarding school in England.
Lewis hated the school, with its strict rules and hard, unsympathetic headmaster, and he missed Belfast terribly. Fortunately for him, the school closed in 1910, and he was able to return to Ireland.
After a year, however, he was sent back to England to study. This time, the experience proved to be mostly positive. As a teenager, Lewis learned to love poetry, especially the works of Virgil and Homer. He also developed an interest in modern languages, mastering French, German, and Italian.

An Oxford Scholar
In 1916 Lewis was accepted at University College, the oldest college (founded 1249) at Oxford University. Oxford, along with Cambridge University, had been a leading center of learning since the Middle Ages. Soon after he entered the University, however, Lewis chose to volunteer for active duty in World War I, to serve in the British Army then fighting in the muddy trenches of northern France.
Following the end of the war in 1918, Lewis returned to Oxford, where he took up his studies again with great enthusiasm. In 1925, after graduating with first-class honors in Greek and Latin Literature, Philosophy and Ancient History, and English Literature, Lewis was elected to an important teaching post in English at Magdalen College, Oxford. He remained at Oxford for 29 years before becoming a professor of medieval and renaissance literature at Magdalene College, Cambridge, in 1955.

Lewis the Writer
In addition to his teaching duties at the University, Lewis began to publish books. His first major work, The Pilgrim's Regress (1933), was about his own spiritual journey to Christian faith. Other works followed that won him acclaim not only as a writer of books on religious subjects, but also as a writer of academic works and popular novels. The Allegory of Love (1936), which is still considered a masterpiece today, was a history of love literature from the early Middle Ages to Shakespeare's time; Out of the Silent Planet (1938) was the first of a trilogy of science fiction novels, the hero of which is loosely modeled on Lewis's friend J.R.R. Tolkien, author of the children's classic The Hobbit.

Initially when Lewis turned to writing children's books, his publisher and some of his friends tried to dissuade him; they thought it would hurt his reputation as writer of serious works. J.R.R. Tolkien in particular criticized Lewis's first Narnia book, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. He thought that there were too many elements that clashed—a Father Christmas and an evil witch, talking animals and children. Thankfully, Lewis didn't listen to any of them.
Following the publication of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe in 1950, Lewis quickly wrote 6 more Narnia books, publishing the final one, The Last Battle, in 1956. Although they were not well received at first by critics and reviewers, the books gained in popularity through word of mouth. The Narnia books have since sold more than 100 million copies and are among the most beloved books of classic children's literature.

The Final Years
After finishing the Narnia series, Lewis continued to write on autobiographical and religious subjects, but less prolifically. Mainly he was preoccupied with the health crises of his wife, Joy Gresham, whom he married in 1956 and who died of cancer in 1960.
After her death, Lewis's own health deteriorated, and in the summer of 1963 he resigned his post at Cambridge. His death, which occurred on November 22, 1963—the same day President Kennedy was assassinated—was only quietly noted. He is remembered, however, by readers the world over, whom he has delighted and inspired for generations.

***Adapted from C.S. Lewis, The Creator of Narnia  

Monday, July 16, 2012

John Wycliffe—A man whose fame unknowingly overshadowed an unknown Christian

I must admit this paragraph caught me off guard in Wycliffe’s latest biography.

She writes,
“No work in English which can be attributed with certainty to Wycliffe survives, nor is there evidence that he actively got the work of translating the Bible into English under way or was even directly involved in it.”
Really? This man, who is known as the “morning star of the Reformation” and is bestowed the immortal honor of translating the Bible into the English language.

So my question is, “Then why is Wycliffe highly regarded in the annals of church history?”

For what I can gather there is one reason. The zealous words of John Foxe. 

He wrote,
“When Wickliffe recovered, he set about a most important work, the translation of the Bible into English. Before this work appeared, he published a tract, wherein he showed the necessity of it. The zeal of the bishops to suppress the Scriptures greatly promoted its sale, and they who were not able to purchase copies, procured transcripts of particular Gospels or Epistles. Afterward, when Lollardy increased, and the flames kindled, it was a common practice to fasten about the neck of the condemned heretic such of these scraps of Scripture as were found in his possession, which generally shared his fate.”
Now I am not accusing Foxe of “lacking historical integrity”, but it seems that the proof of original sources are absent.

She continues,

“It is far from certain that Wycliffe translated a single word of the Bible into English as a contribution to the endeavor which produced the first versions, and there is scant evidence in the authentic writings of the last years that he was thinking along these lines at all.”

So who wrote or edited or even directed the construction of the first English bible? It seems to fall on an unknown Christian, whose name is John Purvey.

“Knighton, writing within a few years of the event, has a good deal to say about John Purvey. He describes him as a chaplain, of simple mien, unassuming and hard-working and assiduous in winning people’s hearts, with a face older than his years. It is upon Knighton’s authority that the story rests that Purvey was Wycliffe’s companion at Lutterworth (where Wycliffe spent the final years of his life). His precise role at Lutterworth, the nature of his relationship with Wycliffe, the capacity in which he served him in these last years remains as obscure as the question of whether he was there at all.”

And yet, it is here where the common, unknown Christian can be encouraged.


The smile of God is more satisfying than then the applause of men or the beautiful voices of a myriad of angels.

I have become quite enamored by the works of C.S. Lewis. My favorite so far is The Great Divorce. To illustrate this point I want to share with you an excerpt from his book.  

The context is a conversation of someone contemplating going into the hills (i.e. going into Heaven). Yet this individual wants to meet and hobnob with important, distinguished, famous people, since that is what is deemed important on Earth.
Ghost: “But surely in the case of distinguished people, you’d hear?
Inhabitant of Heaven: “But they aren’t distinguished—no more than anyone else. Don’t you understand? The Glory flows into everyone, and back from everyone: like light and mirrors. But the light’s the thing.”
Ghost: “Do you mean there are no famous men?”
Inhabitant of Heaven: “They are all famous. They are all known, remembered, recognized by the only Mind that can give a perfect judgment.”

So, John Purvey is famous in Heaven.

Now that I think about it……I guess this means the mom who raises a severely autistic child, who sacrificed her life for the one who may never “leave and cleave” or even enjoy the kiss of a beautiful woman, according to the picture of Lewis, if she trusts if the blood of Jesus, then she is famous in the halls of Heaven.

I guess the verbally abused wife of an angry tyrant, who is told by family and friend to pursue a divorce and yet, submitting to scripture, prays fervently for this wretched soul, according to Lewis, she is famous in the halls of Heaven.

Numerous other souls will be silent in the pages of human history, but famous to the One who created them, sustained them and finally granted to them the joys of eternal rest.

Thanks, John Purvey for reminding me that the smile of God, though often hidden, is the only expression worth living for.