C.S. Lewis, Catholic Gateway Drug

Fifty years since his death, it’s clear C.S. Lewis’ writings have been incredibly effective for helping others do what he never did: join the Catholic Church.

Brantly Millegan
22.11.2013 // PRINT
Howard Stanbury
Today marks the 50th anniversary of the death of one of the greatest Christian minds of the 20th century, the apologist, poet, and novelist, C.S. Lewis.

He authored over forty non-fiction books, eighteen novels, and four books of poetry, including such masterpieces as Mere Christianity, The Screwtape Letters, and the children’s book series The Chronicles of Narnia. Publishers report that his books have been far more popular since his death than they were during his lifetime.

Lewis’ writings are not only appreciated by Catholics but have been influential in actually leading numberless converts across the Tiber river to the Catholic Church. Though he remained an Anglican until his death, Lewis has been one of the most effective evangelists for the Catholic faith in the last hundred years.


“A Strong Anglo-Catholic Trajectory”

“It was C.S. Lewis that led me to G.K. Chesterton, and it was G.K. Chesterton who led me to the Catholic Church,” says President of the American Chesterton Society, Dale Ahlquist. “Lest it be forgot, Lewis himself was an atheist until he read The Everlasting Man by Chesterton. He said it was the first reasonable defense of Christianity that he'd ever read.”

“In personal letters he continued to refer to it as the best book on Christian apologetics. And anyone who has read both Mere Christianity and The Everlasting Man understands quickly where Lewis gets his clear and eloquent arguments for Christ's divinity. Lewis read over forty of Chesterton's books, so his thinking is fairly soaked with Chesterton. And the point is, Chesterton's thinking is Catholic. So the reason, it seems to me, that Catholics are drawn to C.S. Lewis is that while he is consciously Christian (though he calls it ‘mere’ Christianity), he is unconsciously Catholic. He plays an important role as one the great ecumenical writers of the 20th century, appealing to Catholics and non-Catholics alike.”

David Deavel, Associate Editor of Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture and Contributing Editor for Gilbert Magazine, had a similar experience. “For me, Lewis was the 'gateway drug' to all things Catholic. He introduced me, a Protestant teenager, to his Catholic friends (e.g., Tolkien) and his Catholic influences (e.g., Chesterton).”

“He also explained Catholic teachings I already held as a Protestant in a way that was different from what I had heard before, and he put before my eyes specifically Catholic teachings including purgatory, prayer for the dead, and the intercession of the saints in heaven in a way that was eminently reasonable and attractive. While his failure to think coherently about the nature of the Church in books like Mere Christianity later became obvious, like many other Catholic converts it was his introduction of the other Catholic things that helped spur me on to think about topics on which he had punted.”

Professor of Philosophy at Holy Apostles College and Seminary Ronda Chervin was also deeply influenced by Lewis. “I was very influenced by C.S. Lewis to become a Catholic because his argument about how Christ had to be either a madman, a liar, or divine, totally convinced me of His divinity. Most Catholics think C.S. Lewis was a Catholic! He had many Catholic friends and much of his writing sounds Catholic.”

Assistant Professor of Modern and Classical Languages at Benedictine College Edward Mulholland says Lewis’ writings have a sacramental worldview which attracts Catholics. “Lewis, although a Protestant, presents a vision of the world that is eminently sacramental, and I think this is what draws Catholics to him and many of his readers to Catholicism.”

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