Thursday 13 January 2022

C.S. Lewis Apostle to the Sceptics - Walter Hooper - CTS Biographies

C. S. Lewis Apostle to the Sceptics
Catholic Truth Society
ISBN 9781784690021
eISBN 9781784693046
CTS Booklet B760

I admit I was hesitant to pick up this book and give it a read. I have read several books by and about C.S. Lewis, including other works by Hooper. When I was involved with Campus Ministry Lewis’s book were immensely popular with evangelicals and mainline Protestants. I also know that he is popular in many circles of Catholic thought, to the extent that that some argue he was really a Catholic at heart. So as such I was hesitant to pick up this volume and give it a read, even though I have read over 250 volumes from the Catholic Truth Society over the last handful of years. I was however greatly surprised by this booklet and have recommended it to a few friends whom I know are fans of Lewis, both Catholic’s and non-Catholics. But back to this booklet, the description of it is:

“This booklet charts Lewis’s journey from practical atheism to his conversion to Christianity, and thereafter, to becoming Professor of English at Cambridge and one of the best known Christian apologists of his age. In charting Lewis's childhood, youth and adult life, Walter Hooper reveals the many influences that played upon his formation as a writer, thinker, and in his faith.

Spurning celebrity and false certainties, Lewis spoke to millions of his generation of the everyday struggles, enlightened by the truths of Christianity conveyed in straightforward, riveting, understandable prose.”

And the chapters are:

Early Days
Schools and Loss of Faith
Oxford and the War
Tolkien and Conversion
The Christian Apologist
A Chapter of Surprises
Further Reading

This volume was published in 2014 and the eBook edition released in 2017. This appears to be a new work by Hooper, and I believe it was one of if not the last book Hooper wrote. I was surprised that it is a new volume and not an excerpt from his other works. Not that he did not draw from them. A few of the passages I highlighted my first time through this book were:

“As I’ve explained in this booklet, The Screwtape Letters was one of the first theological works Lewis published. It appeared in weekly instalments, at the same time the ‘Mere Christianity’ talks were being broadcast. Lewis had the publishers of the Letters and the BBC send the fees for both works to a list of widows and orphans he provided. Lewis had his old friend Owen Barfield, a solicitor, set up a charitable trust - which they called ‘The Agape’ - into which two-thirds of Lewis’s total income would go. All the gifts from the Agape were given anonymously.”

“I think writing gave him more pleasure than anything. A bottle of ink, some nibs for his pen, a stack of paper - and plenty of tea! - that gave him great contentment. One time I asked how he managed to write with such ease. He said the thing he most enjoyed about writing was that it did two things at once. This he illustrated by saying, “I don’t know what I mean till I see what I’ve said.” In other words, writing and thinking were a single process.”

“After his death Warnie invited me to edit his brother’s writings, and this has occupied me for the last fifty years. This would have been impossible without the encouragement and good will of the Inklings, notably Warnie, Owen Barfield, Professor Tolkien and many others. I wish they had been alive in 1984 when I learned that Pope John Paul II wanted to talk with me about Lewis.”

“It was arranged that I would have a private audience with the Holy Father on 14th November 1984. I had known for years that the Pope had used The Screwtape Letters with his students as far back as 1950. Then in 1978, the year he became Pope, he mentioned Lewis’s The Four Loves in one of his Wednesday audiences. The Four Loves are Affection, Friendship, Eros and Agape. When I met the Pope after the General Audience he began by asking, “Do you still love your old friend, C.S. Lewis?” “Yes, Holy Father,” I said, “Both Affection and Friendship.” “You knew I liked The Four Loves!” he said. I replied that many people knew it, and from our conversation I learned that the Pope knew most of Lewis’s theological works, including Mere Christianity.

Then came his questions about what Lewis was like, and it was clear he really wanted to know what inspired this remarkable man to become a champion of the Christian Faith. At the end, I hoped the Pope, having heard me on C.S. Lewis, would say what he thought of him. He did: he said with great firmness:
“C.S. Lewis knew what his apostolate was” - a long pause - “and he did it!””

That interest and familiarity with C.S. Lewis by Saint John Paul II and a few references to Pope Benedict XVI’s to Lewis were news to me. Hooper states:

“Mere Christianity has never been out of print. Although it was written with ‘Everyman’ in mind, numerous Catholics use it in teaching because Lewis could explain profound subjects in simple and compelling language. The book has led many to convert to Catholicism.”

And also:

“It hardly needs saying that Tolkien hoped Jack would become a Catholic. After all, Lewis’s beliefs were much more Catholic than Anglican. But Lewis was trapped by his own success. Following his first series of ‘Mere Christianity’ broadcasts in 1941, Lewis began getting an enormous number of letters, and he felt he must reply to all of them. He argued that if an author publishes a book it is reasonable for his readers to write to him. From about 1945 on Lewis received thousands of letters every year, with the result that he spent at least two hours every day replying to them. The 3500 pages of his Collected Letters are yet another aspect of his Apostolate to the Sceptics.”

As mentioned I was greatly surprised by this little volume. Even with all I have read by and about Lewis and even the other Inklings. This is a wonderful little read. A great book in an excellent series from the  Catholic Truth Society. 

Note: This book is part of a series of reviews: 2022 Catholic Reading Plan! For other reviews of books from the Catholic Truth Society click here.

For reviews of other books in the CTS Biographies series click here.

Books by C.S. Lewis
Narnia Publication Order:
Prince Caspian
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
The Silver Chair
The Horse and His Boy
The Last Battle

Narnia Chronological Order:
The Horse and His Boy
Prince Caspian
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
The Silver Chair
The Last Battle

Other Reviews of Lewis's Books.
A Grief Observed
The Four Loves
Out of the Silent Planet
That Hideous Strength
The Dark Tower and Other Stories

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