Thursday, September 1, 2016

The ScrewTape Letters by C. S. Lewis: A Commentary, part 8

Key Themes in The Screwtape Letters, or,
What we learn from Screwtape: part 4

          This is part 8 in a series of blog posts that is dedicated to The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis. To see part 1, click here; to see part 2, click here; to see part 3, click here; to see part 4, click here; to see part 5, click here; to see part 6, click here; to see part 7, click here. In part 1 we introduced the Screwtape Letters and provided a brief outline of the book. In parts 2-4 we provided an analysis of the literary sources that inspired the Screwtape Letters. We saw that the two most obvious literary sources for The Screwtape Letters are (1) the biblical teachings on angels, demons, and sin, and (2) John Milton’s Paradise Lost. We then looked at a number of other influences, and references to other literature, that can be seen in the ScrewTape Letters. In part 5 we began an exposition of the key themes that are brought up in the Screwtape Letters. Due to the nature of the Letters, it is important to understand that Lewis is not providing an indepth philosophical or theological analysis of each subject, but, rather, is providing what might be called a popular-level analysis.
 In part 5 we looked at some comments that Lewis makes concerning the Natural Sciences, Time and Change (which might be considered a sub-category of natural philosophy, or Metaphysics--depending on how the subject is approached), and Metaphysics. In part 6, we looked at some comments that Lewis makes concerning Theology Proper (the doctrine of God), and Christology. In part 7, we considered some comments that Lewis made concerning Human Nature, Hamartiology (or the doctrine of sin), and Ecclesiology (the doctrine of the church). Now, in part 8, we will look at Lewis's comments on sanctification, heaven and hell, some random comments on angels and demons, and some comments on the moral law and moral teachers.


            Lewis portrays sanctification as the gradual process by which God slowly but surely transforms a human person so that they become, more and more, what God wants them to be. Lewis has Screwtape describe the process as follows, “The Enemy will be working from the centre outwards, gradually bringing more and more of the patient’s conduct under the new standard.”[1] Later, in the 8th letter Lewis will have Screwtape describe the purpose of Sanctification as the creation of men who are like God in Christ-Jesus, “He really does want to fill the universe with a lot of loathsome little replicas of Himself—creatures whose life, on its miniature scale, will be qualitatively like His own, not because He has absorbed them but because their wills freely conform to His.”[2]

            Concerning the results of sanctification, Lewis has Screwtape say, “the Enemy also wants to detach men from themselves, but in a different way…When He talks of their losing their selves, He only means abandoning the clamour of self-will; once they have done that, He really gives them back all their personality, and boasts (I am afraid, sincerely) that when they are wholly His they will be more themselves than ever.”[3]

Heaven and Hell

            So, does Lewis believe in a real heaven and a real hell? He certainly seems to talk about both places as if they were real, almost geographically located, places. He sees Heaven and Hell as polar opposites, which may, indeed, be the purpose for the cosmological topography—that is, one better illustrates the immense difference between Heaven and Hell when one describes them as occupying entirely opposite sides of a universe that is extended beyond human comprehension. Let us look at his descriptions of heaven and hell.

Heaven is described, in the eleventh letter, as a place that is full of music.[4] Later, heaven is described as “eternal union” with God,[5] or as the eternal world of God.[6] In Heaven, finally, man will see God.[7] Heaven is also described as a “world where pain and pleasure take on transfinite values and all our arithmetic is dismayed.”[8]

Hell, in the eleventh letter, is described as a place that is full of noise,[9] and, in the final letter, as the Kingdom of noise.[10] Hell is also described, in the eleventh letter, as follows, “the realism, dignity, and austerity of Hell.”[11] Lewis describes Hell in Miltonian terms, as we mentioned earlier, as the place where Satan sits on his infernal throne.[12] More importantly, Lewis describes Hell, in the 15th chapter, as eternal separation from God.[13]

Angels and Demons

We have already noted a number of claims that Lewis makes about the fallen angels, but there is at least one more point that we can point out. C. S. Lewis clearly believes in the existence of both Angels and Demons, and that they are personal spiritual beings (pure spirits untainted by matter)[14] who are powerful and enemies of God. He reminds us, in the preface to The Screwtape Letters, that “There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them.”[15] We also see Lewis describing the expulsion of Satan from heaven.[16]

The Moral Law

C. S. Lewis also discusses the notion of the Moral law that is known by all humanity, and which is passed on from generation to generation. In Mere Christianity he uses human knowledge of the moral law (even if only unconsciously demonstrated by their actions and reactions) to show that morality is objective and that there is a creator. He discusses the moral law in other books and articles as well. Here he notes that the moral law, which is known by all humanity (in accord with Romans 2:14-16), is sufficient to give man a sense of sin, which is what awakens him to his need for a saviour.[17]

The Role of Moral Teachers in Human History

             In the same section where he discusses the Moral law, Lewis notes that God has sent frequent messengers to humanity to remind them of the moral law. Lewis brings up this point to remind us that Jesus is not a simple moral teacher, as was Socrates, but so much more. At this point we are interested in pointing out that Lewis seems to approve of the idea (found throughout church history, and culminating in the middle ages) that some of the great philosophers of history played a role in God’s sovereign plan by reminding humanity of the Moral law.[18]

Go to part 9.

[1]Ibid., 20.

[2]Ibid., 46.

[3]Ibid., 68.

[4]Ibid., 57, 113, 114.

[5]Ibid., 76.

[6]Ibid., 143.

[7]Ibid., 159.

[8]Ibid., 160.

[9]Ibid., 114.

[10]Ibid., 156.

[11]Ibid., 58.

[12]Ibid., 156.

[13]Ibid., 76.

[14]Ibid., 12, 26, 158.

[15]Ibid., 9.

[16]Ibid., 97-98.

[17]Ibid., 119.

[18]Ibid., 118.