Tag Archives: Eucharist

C S Lewis’s spiritual formation: confession, purgatory, Mary, and other Catholic dimensions


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I’ve long thought Protestantism has been hasty (as Luther himself was not) to eliminate the practice of confession to a priest–among other Roman Catholic (or the larger category: “catholic”) practices and beliefs. Once one clears away the typical Protestant misunderstandings (that the priest is a mediator who somehow offers absolution by his own authority, that he imposes penances as a way to “earn salvation,” etc.), this seems to me a healthy Christian discipline. Particularly it seems it would be helpful if the person to which one confessed were also one’s spiritual director, in the old tradition.

What follows are some notes taken at the Marion Wade Center, from a couple of sources by Lyle Dorsett. The first is an article peering into C S Lewis’s own practice of confession. The second is a group of excerpts from Dorsett’s book on Lewis’s spiritual development, and talks again about Lewis’s practice of confession, then also about his views on purgatory, Mary, and the Protestant-Roman Catholic divide.

Summarizing: Lewis shared some broadly “catholic” beliefs and practices with both the Roman Catholics and the Anglo-Catholics within his own Church. But he was far from teetering on the edge of conversion to Roman Catholicism, as Joseph Pearce has incorrectly (in my opinion) argued. Nonetheless, Lewis makes a good study in appropriating long-standing catholic practices while remaining Protestant in conviction and worship:

[Note: as you’ll see, my inclusion of Mary in the title of this blog post is a bit of a red herring: Lewis was averse to Marian devotion.]

Dorsett, Lyle W. “C.S. Lewis and the Cowley Fathers.” Cowley 32 n.1 (Winter 2006): cover, 11-12.

In this article Dorsett writes especially about CSL’s Anglo-Catholic confessor and “director,” Father Walter Adams. Lewis began to see Adams in late October 1940, saying after his first confession to Father Adams “that the experience was like a tonic to his soul.” (11) Continue reading

Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years


Here is a review of the new Diarmaid MacCulloch book, Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years (MacCulloch previously published an accessible survey of the Reformation period). The provocative title refers both to the future of the faith, and to the presence of certain proto-Christian ideas before Jesus.

A couple of clips from the review, which appears on the Philadelphia Inquirer‘s website, and is written by Margaret McGuiness, chair of the Religion Department at La Salle University:

No text purporting to trace the rise and development of a major world religion can do it all, and Christianity is no exception. MacCulloch does at least touch on many important representatives of events, movements, and doctrinal developments. Topics as diverse as the teaching on Purgatory, Eucharistic doctrine, and evangelicalism are explained and placed within the context of major events such as the Reformations (Protestant and Catholic), the Enlightenment, and the culture wars of the 20th and 21st centuries.

In addition, the author attempts to incorporate the role of Christian women into the larger history, and includes figures as diverse as the mystic Teresa of Avila; Angela Merici, foundress of the Ursuline nuns, the first active women’s religious community; and English Protestant feminist Mary Astell.

“Satan was as fit as I”: The Easter week conversion of Charles Simeon


In my dissolute youth, Holy Week was a time of particularly acute conviction. Now, it has become a time of joy. But thinking back to those misspent teen years, I’m reminded of the conversion story of Charles Simeon, the 19th-century fellow of Cambridge (King’s College) and rector of Holy Trinity Church. Simeon was also young, just 21, and his conversion came during a similarly acute Holy-Week season of conviction, triggered by a summons to his first communion service at Cambridge. I tell the story in my Patron Saints for Postmoderns:

Satan Was as Fit as I

As for Simeon himself, nothing in his upbringing had instilled any real
faith in him by that tender age of twenty-one. Nonetheless, when he
received the official summons to his first communion service on a cold
winter day, three days after arriving at Cambridge, he entered “a state
of spiritual panic.” Looking within himself, he concluded that “Satan
himself was as fit to attend [the sacrament] as I.” He bought a stern
book titled The Whole Duty of Man, because it was the only religious
book he had heard of, and under its prescriptions he proceeded to
read, fast and pray himself into physical illness. For all that effort, he
still went to his first communion unrelieved from his acute sense of
unworthiness and fear.

Nor did his struggle end there, for he knew he must receive the sacrament
again on Easter Sunday. Continue reading

Evangelicalism’s hidden liturgical and confessional past


Can revivalistic emotion and liturgical reverence co-exist? What about spontaneous worship and doctrinal carefulness? Yes, these can be part of the same religious experience–indeed, these seemingly contradictory elements coexisted at the very taproot of evangelical history. I explored this in a post on Christianity Today’s history blog:

Evangelicalism’s Hidden Liturgical and Confessional Past

by Chris Armstrong

The emotional energy of Cane Ridge and other early frontier revivals arose from a strong emphasis on the Eucharist.

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Many evangelicals – especially younger ones – are today re-engaging tradition. Other evangelicals worry about this re-engagement. They feel that to move toward a more liturgical form of worship or a more fixed, detailed style of theological “confession” is to give up the freer, more emotional worship style or more grass-roots, straightforward doctrinal and theological style won for us by such evangelical forefathers as the 18th century’s John Wesley or the 19th century’s Charles Finney.

I want to suggest that one way forward to healthier engagement with tradition for modern-day evangelicals is through a look at our own recent past. For American revivalism itself grew on unexpected foundations of liturgy and doctrinal confession. Continue reading

Preacher in the hands of an angry church: the fall of Jonathan Edwards


Minister. Thinker. Revivalist. America’s greatest theologian. “Homeboy” to today’s Young Reformed. Hero. Icon.

Failed pastor.

Why exactly was Jonathan Edwards, godfather of American evangelicalism, ejected from his own congregation–the church he had served faithfully for over twenty years? And what happened next? How did he respond? I explored these questions in an article for Leadership Journal:

[For a few reflections on what Edwards could still mean to the church today, see this post. For his claim to the title “father of evangelicalism,” see this one. On Edwards as the original “ancient-future” evangelical, see here.]

Preacher in the Hands of an Angry Church
by Chris Armstrong

As messy dismissals of ministers go, the 1750 ejection of Jonathan Edwards by his Northampton congregation was among the messiest. The fact that it involved the greatest theologian in American history—the central figure of the Great Awakening—is almost beside the point. The fact that it took place in a New England fast moving from theocratic “city on a hill” to democratic home of liberty is more relevant. Continue reading