Christianity and Culture by C. S. Lewis

Lewis, C. S. (1940). Christianity and Culture. Theology, 40(237), 166–179.

  • Before conversion he thought the life of culture was very good, but after conversion went to the other extreme and belittled culture and asked: if of so little value, why do I spent so much of my life on it?
    • Felt that we had to "lay down our precious refinement at the very doorstep of the church" and rather embrace the "sentimentality and cheapness" of the bad hymns
  • Pride: "A man is never so proud as when striking an attitude of Humility."
  • The question: If our real business is the glory of God and the salvation of souls, then what is the value of culture?
  • Lewis' reading of The Bible suggests that culture is innocent but unimportant
  • "If my selection of authorities seems arbitrary, that is due not to a bias but to my ignorance. I used such authors as I happened to know."
  • John Henry Newman: All literature is one, there is not a Christian Literature (sinless literature with sinful man)
    • Culture gives us a non-moral perfection
  • St. Gregory the Great: Culture is a weapon: "If we are to convert our heathen neighbors, we must understand their culture. We must beat them at their own game."
  • Lewis' construction of a justification for culture:
    1. [For some], Culture allows you to earn a living
    2. Culture will be abused either way, so you might as well have some Christians there to resist the abuse of culture
    3. Culture provides pleasure, which is good in itself so long as it does not go against the moral law, and especially good if it distracts from something that is objectively sinful
    4. Culture can be a "schoolmaster" and storehouse of the best sub-Christian (i.e. pre-Christian) values
      • "I am quite ready to describe Sehnsucht as "spilled religion," provided it is not forgotten that the spilled drops may be full of blessing to the unconverted man who licks them up, and therefore begins to search for the cup whence they were spilled. For the drops will be taken by some whose stomachs are not yet sound enough for the full draught."
      • "A cultured almost compelled to be aware that reality is very odd and that the ultimate truth, whatever it may be, must have the characteristics of strangeness—must be something that would seem remote and fantastic to the uncultured."
  • "I conclude that culture has a distinct part to play in bringing certain souls to Christ."
    • "Not all souls—there is a shorter, and safer, way which has always been followed by thousands of simple affectional natures who begin, where we hope to end, with devotion to the person of Christ." → This, then, is the argument explicitly for sending your children to Catholic Schools if the alternative is a secular classical school
  • Culture for the converted:
    • Rest in culture and recognize where it comes from and leads to: "Since we must rest and play, where can we do so better than here—in the suburbs of Jerusalem?"
    • Engage in culture (or anything) and offer it to God: "Most men must glorify God by doing to His glory something which is not per se an act of glorifying but which becomes so by being offered."
  • "Every Virtue is a habitus—i.e., a good stock response."

Source: Dan Gibson


New Words

  • Sehnsucht: German word meaning longing, specifically longing for some unknown joy

Created: 2022-02-03-Thu
Updated: 2023-01-13-Fri